Why Do Cats Have Whiskers? Everything You Need to Know
Your cat relies on his whiskers for many things in his day-to-day life, yet it’s easy to underestimate those facial bristles. They actually offer so much more to your cat than just overall cuteness – highly sensitive, whiskers are in fact your feline’s own built-in sensor and radar system. So, if you have ever wondered what those whiskers are for, then read on and discover why cat whiskers are, well, the cat’s whiskers!
What are Cat Whiskers?
Whiskers are not just there to add even more cuteness to your cat, they also have an important role as a super-sensitive sensory tool. And they are not just confined to your kit’s muzzle, but can also be found above their eyes, on the ears, along their jawline and even on their forelegs. However, the main whisker section is on the face, where your cat will have 24 long whiskers, 12 on either side of their nose. And what is remarkable is that these 24 whiskers are spaced in perfect symmetry so that they can accurately measure what is going on around them.
How Whiskers Work
Called vibrissae, cat whiskers are not actually made from conventional hair but are longer, stiffer and three times thicker than their fur. They are also embedded much more deeply in the body so that they connect with your kit’s muscular and nervous systems. This is the key to the sensory power of the cat’s whisker – and makes them a highly tuned radar for your cat, for a host of super-cat reasons.
However, because of this sensitivity, it can actually hurt your cat if their whiskers are caught or messed about with. Eating out of food bowl that presses against their whiskers can also cause distress to your cat, so a plate or wide feeding bowl is often the best solution.
What are Cat Whiskers for?
Your cat is actually long-sighted and cannot focus on anything closer than around 30cm, so their whiskers help them to skillfully navigate what is right in front of them. With their sensitive tips and a root linked to your cat’s inner sensory system, whiskers can detect the slightest vibrations and pass that information on to your pet. The nerves inside each whisker also help your cat to judge distance and space and your cat can actually move their whiskers to get a more accurate sense of their surroundings. Here are the main ways whiskers keep your cat on track:
- Touch sensors: Your cat will use their whiskers as a navigational aid, and to measure and judge tight spaces as well as distances, hence their skillful acrobatics when jumping from one thing to another. Their whiskers are generally as long as the width of your cat so are an excellent measure for how wide a space is and if they are able to get through. The whisker tips can also help your cat to work out what an object is, how big and even its texture. In short, your cat’s whiskers are the equivalent of a human’s fingertips when it comes to touch and sensing our environment, even in the dark.
- Night vision aids: Your cat is the ultimate night-time creature and that is thanks to his hardworking whiskers that detect changes in the air to let him know where obstacles – or his prey – are in front of him. This is due to the sensitive whisker tip, called the proprioceptor, which sends minute messages to his brain as he moves. Working together with his excellent night vision and your kit can move around and hunt in the dark just like his wild cousins.
- They tell you how your cat is feeling: Your cat’s whiskers are also wonderful barometers of mood and emotions, and you can learn to read what their whisker positions actually mean. Your cat uses a complex set of muscles in the face to move their whiskers back and forth, not only to help sense and locate external obstacles and changes but also to express how they are feeling at any given moment. When relaxed and content, your kit’s whiskers will be still and stick straight out from the side of the head, however, if she is feeling threatened or scared, the whiskers will appear rigid and be pulled back against her face. And when your cat has her hunting game on, her whiskers will point forward – you should also see this when she starts to play. Read your cat’s whiskers, along with her ears and tail and you should always have a good idea of how she is feeling.
- They help to position prey: Being short-sighted, your cat needs a helping hand – or whisker – when it comes to the final catch of their prey and to ensure it is in position for the final kill. The whiskers on her forelegs and also on her chin step in to guide a cat when up close and personal with her prey or even toy and help her get them into position.
- They keep her safe: While those whiskers help your cat to be an effective predator, they also help to ensure she remains safe by alerting your feline to any approaching dangers. They do this by sensing subtle changes in the air created by movement and report back to your cat’s own sensory system. And with your cat’s eyes being so delicate, those long facial whiskers help to protect them from anything sharp or dangerous.
Whiskers Should Never Be Trimmed
So, do cats shed whiskers? As with their coat, it is normal for whiskers to shed and be replaced with new ones. However, with whiskers being so essential to your cat ‘being a cat’, there is one thing you must never do – and that is trim them. It may be tempting to prune your kit’s face as part of a grooming routine but cutting their whiskers is a big no-no. With a delicate sensory organ at the tip, cutting these off will only leave your cat without an essential tool and him feeling frightened and disorientated as he struggles to make sense of his close-up world.
And finally, to answer the question, ‘do cat’s whiskers grow back’, the answer is yes. As their whiskers will naturally shed, if you find an odd couple of cat whiskers falling out, it is nothing to worry about, there are more than enough of these remarkable facial hairs to keep your kit thriving and out of trouble!