Why Do Cats Have Whiskers? Things You Didn’t Know About a Cat’s Whiskers!

Do you ever wonder about cat’s whiskers or cat mustache? Many people think that cat’s whiskers are no different from human hair or human mustache. That’s not true, so here are some facts about cat whiskers you never knew!

When you look at a cat’s face have you ever wondered whether those whiskers were just there or did they serve a purpose? It turns out that cats’ whiskers are truly remarkable and do serve several functions. Cat whiskers are thicker than fur and the follicles run deep into its skin.

Let’s find out some interesting facts about cats’ whiskers and why do cats have whiskers

  1. Vibrissae / Tactile Hairs / Cat Whiskers

  • Cats whiskers are a kind of receptors for touch, which is part of the cat’s five senses.
  • They are known as vibrissae or tactile hairs and are longer and stiffer than human hair.
  • Typically, cats have 24 whiskers. What are cat whiskers made of? It mainly consists of keratin.
  • They are more prominently seen on both sides of the nose and on the upper lip, rather like a mustache.
  • Shorter whiskers are also seen above the eyes, rather like eyebrows. Whiskers are also found on the jaw and at the rear part of the front legs, known as carpal whiskers.

carpal whiskers

  • On the face, shorter whiskers are on the front, whereas the longer ones are at the rear.
  • Most cats sport white colored whiskers, as thick hair does not have much ability to retain melanin, which is responsible for the color. However, some cats do have colored whiskers. The whiskers usually turn white with age.

Must ReadHow Do Cats Communicate With Each Other?

  1. Cat Whisker Works as Sensory or Communication Tool

The whiskers function as an extra sensory tool in cats. They are also embedded deeply in the body and connected to the nervous system of the body, sending information about the surroundings to the sensory nerves.

  • Whiskers on cats are long and stiff and thicker than normal hair, being tapered in the tip.
  • They grow from follicles and go about three times deeper into the cat’s skin, compared to normal hair follicles.
  • The hair follicle has extra blood vessels as well as nerves, which enables the whisker to function as an additional sensory tool, like an antennae.
  • The whisker doesn’t have any sensation, but it causes vibrations that offer stimulation to the nerves present in the hair follicle. It helps the cat detect changes in the surroundings.
  • Whiskers help the cat in sensing its environment.

Note:  The word ‘whisker’ itself arises from a Latin word ‘vibrio’ meaning ‘vibrate’.

  1. Measuring Openings / Distance

  • A cat with mustache is able to determine the distance of an object, its direction and even the texture of an object due to the sensory organs on the tips of the whiskers.
  • The whiskers are the same length as the width of its body. Thus, the cat uses the whiskers to determine whether it can fit into a narrow space.

cat mustache(Image: iheartcats.com)

Note: A chubby cat will have wider whiskers.

  • The whiskers help the cat in assessing distances, so it is able to safely leap from a big distance onto a small or narrow landing area.

Also ReadDying Cat Symptoms: Signs that Indicate Your Cat is Dying

  1. Cat Whiskers Aid in Hunting

  • The whiskers are very sensitive and help the cat in detection of any change in the air currents
  • This helps the cat to navigate in the darkness for hunting.

Note: Just as you use your fingers or arms by holding them out in the dark, the cat uses its whiskers.

  • The sensitivity of the whiskers helps the cat to detect a potential movement of its
  • They are not able to see a mouse in the dark with their eyes, but they feel the presence due to the whiskers.
  • Cats also feel the breeze using the whiskers and they use it to detect high grasses. This was an ability that was very useful for cats hunting in the wild.
  • Their whiskers give information about the distance of the prey as well as the shape.

Note: If the whiskers are damaged, the cat will not be able to aim the bite accurately and therefore, not be able to kill the prey.

  1. Maneuver in the Dark

Cats use whiskers like you and I would use a cane. It is a kind of guide for maneuvering through a room or walking through any area.

  • Its whiskers are a kind of communication antenna that allow the cat to see in the dark.
  • Cats get valuable information through their whiskers, as they pick up air currents as well as air pressure. Changes in air currents cause vibrations in the whiskers and this helps them to maneuver in the dark.
  • They are able to navigate around furniture and other objects in the room due to the air currents surrounding the objects.

Note: It has been noted that mother cats chew off the kitten’s whiskers. It is concluded that she does this in order to prevent the kitten from wandering away too far with the help of the whiskers and to protect the kittens from getting into trouble.

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cutting cat whiskers

  1. Mood Demonstration / Emotional Barometer

  • If you see the whiskers folded flat on the cat’s face, its a cue to stay back.
  • When the cat is curious about something or trying to sniff something tasty, or trying to find out more about a nearby threat, the whiskers get sprawled or fanned out in order to collect more information.
  • When the whiskers are facing forward, it shows the cat is friendly.
  • When the whiskers are pulled back, it is a defensive mode. It means the cat is scared or even angry.
  • When the whiskers twitch during sleep, it is probably dreaming about that mouse in your house. 🙂
  • When the whiskers are tense, it means the cat is aggressive or in a hunting mode.
  1. Positioning the Prey

  • The whiskers present on the rear of front legs help when the cat contacts a prey.
  • These whiskers act like a pair of eyes. They help the cat determine where to position the prey and how to deliver an effective or fatal bite.
  • Cats are far sighted and anything that is more than 6 inches away from the eyes is blurred.
  • The whiskers on the chin and the wrists assist the cat in feeling and detecting whether the prey has stopped moving. It then positions it correctly to make the killing bite.

Cats Whisker Care

  1. Cats Whisker Care

Cutting cat whiskers is a big no-no!. According to Tom Ryan, compare it to someone taking away your toes, tying your arms behind the back, blindfolding you and the then spun you around!

  • What happens if you cut a cat’s whiskers? Cutting the whiskers will result in disorientation and fright, as it becomes difficult for the cat to locate and asses the surroundings. Avoid trimming and grooming of your cat’s whiskers.
  • Prevent whisker fatigue in cats by providing a wide bowl or a flat surface for its food, so that the whiskers don’t touch the side of the bowl.

Tip: Cats’ whiskers are sensitive and it is uncomfortable for them to eat from a narrow dish.

  • Do cats whiskers grow back? Do cats shed whiskers? It is natural for a cat losing whiskers as they just fall off, just like human hair, but they’ll grow back within one or two months.

Tip: Can you trim cat whiskers? In some cases the whiskers might have to be cut, such as in case of an abscess in the cheek. The vet will trim it neatly and it starts growing back again within a few months.

  1. Cat Whiskers Acts as Eye Protector

  • The whiskers present above the eyes help by stimulating the blink reflexes when the eye is touched.
  • This protects the cat, as it prevents things from getting into the eyes, as it closes them.

Note: These are things like a plant leaf; a claw, your fingers or just grass.

  1. Largest Whiskers

Largest Cat Whiskers(Imahe: tg.net.pl)

  • Wouldn’t you like to know which cat has the largest whiskers in the world? That’s none other than Fullmoon’s Miss American Pie, or Missi, of Finland.
  • It is a Maine Coon cat and the whiskers were measured at 19 cms or 7.5 inches.
  • Missi was born on December 30th 2001 and the measurement was made in Iisvesi in Finland on the 22nd of December, 2005, where the cat lives with her man, Kaiji Kyllonen.

SeeHow Long Do Cats Live: Natural Ways to Help Your Cat Live Longer

Last Word

We don’t know whether cats are cute due to the whiskers, but we do know that cats and whiskers are an inseparable combination. Whiskers are an important vestigial accessories for cats and a cat would be hard pressed to perform many of its feats in the absence of whiskers.

So Whiskers are a kind of GPS or radar system for your cat, helping it do some amazing tasks. Some cats like the Rex and the Sphynx have short whiskers, but even these are capable of detecting air currents and act as sensitive tools. Now, we know why everyone wants to be the cat’s whiskers, right?

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