A cat’s whiskers are one of his most distinguishing characteristics. A stand out feature on every feline face, they definitely add to the “cool cat” appeal. Since many anatomical features serve a specific purpose, it’s only natural to wonder why your cat has whiskers. Are they there for a reason?
Vibrissae or tactile hairs are the more technical names for whiskers. Whiskers are essentially thicker versions of your cat’s coat that grow longer and are embedded securely into the flesh of your cat. However, unlike hair, whiskers are extremely sensitive to the touch and play an important role in helping your cat navigate his world.
Top 6 Facts About Cat Whiskers
Whiskers are an amazing thing. When it comes to cats, whiskers aren’t just a God-given fashion accessory, they are functional too.
Here is a list of six interesting facts about cat whiskers:
They help your cat measure things
If you’ve ever considered the length and texture of your cat’s whiskers, it begins to make perfect sense as to why a cat would use their whiskers to assist them in making measurement assessments. Since cat whiskers are extremely sensitive to the touch and bending or catching a whisker would be painful, your cat uses his whiskers to gauge whether or not it is safe for him to enter a space. Interestingly enough, the end tip of a cat’s whiskers is equivalent to the size of his body’s girth. If your cat’s whiskers won’t clear a space, his body won’t either. This clever, built-in defense mechanism ensures that Frisky never gets caught in a “tight” corner.
They are located on many areas of the head
Though muzzle whiskers are more prominent, other portions of a cat’s head and body also contain vibrissae. The muzzle alone houses the lion’s share at 24 whiskers. However, above the eyes, the chin area, and also slightly above the paws on the front legs provide a home for tactile hairs.
They assist cats on a hunt
When an item is too close to a cat, it is very difficult for him to discern what it is. The whiskers above the eyes, known as carpal whiskers, help cats to determine the nearness of prey by detecting movement. The whiskers are so precise that they can even tell a cat when to swoop in to make a “kill.” Built in “cat radar,” if you will!
These whiskers also serve an added purpose in protecting your cat’s eyes from dirt and debris which might fall into his eyes causing injury or discomfort. Though this job falls primarily to the eyebrow, the carpal whiskers’ sensitivity allows them to pinpoint the impending presence of hazardous materials and send a direct message to the eye to blink as a means of protection.
They are a built in “cat weathervane”
Ever wonder how your cat finds his way so well in the dark? His whiskers deserve a lot of the credit. The delicate nerves contained in whiskers are so acutely in tune with their surroundings that they can even detect directional changes in the air. This helps your cat to realize when something has been moved or is not in its correct place and aids your cat in not bumping into items that might cause them injury or discomfort.
They contain many nerve endings
It is a little known fact that the skin surrounding your cat’s whiskers is home to many nerves as well as blood. As such, the ends of your cat’s whiskers are both delicate and very reactive to the touch. For this reason, a cat’s whiskers should never be trimmed or cut in any fashion. To do so is to cause your cat great and unnecessary pain and is actually quite cruel.
When a cat’s whisker falls out of its own volition, this is not a cause for concern. It is not painful for your cat, and it generally will grow back in time.
Not all whiskers are straight
When it comes to whiskers, not all cats are created equally. Certain breeds of cats don’t develop the traditional longer-style whiskers that cat fans have come to know and love. Due to the shape of their heads and the type of coat they bear, some breeds bear whiskers that are actually quite short, and some are even curly!
Yes, whiskers are a wonderful thing, and they help your cat in many different ways. Learning about their different functions is fascinating. While whiskers require no care from owners, it is important to remember never to cut or trim them. Your cat will thank you for it!