Maybe you are wondering why cats have whiskers and want to know more about your cat’s built-in radar system. Please continue reading to discover everything about whiskers, everything from how they work to why they are essential in your cat’s daily life.
Whiskers are the cat’s tuned sensory tool that guides them in their daily functions. Cat’s whiskers are multifunctional. These peculiar hairs are essential for vision and also help a cat navigate this environment. Whiskers provide extra sensory input, the same way antennae do for insects.
What Are Whiskers? Why Do Cats Have Them?
Cat’s whiskers are very different from the surrounding hair. Whiskers are stiffer and thicker than hair and are anchored deep within your cat’s skin.
Any movement of the whiskers activates the nerve packs in your cat’s skin. It means that your cat can instantly record when an object or the wind is moving its whiskers. In time, whiskers fall out. However, new ones replace the old ones.
Why Do Cats Have Whiskers?
Even though whiskers are known as “tactile hairs,” they don’t feel anything. They transmit information to sensory cells whenever they detect movement or objects. When an object brushes or air flows up against a whisker, the sensitive hair vibrates and stimulates the nerves inside the hair follicle.
From this vibration comes whiskers’ scientific name, “vibrissae,” from the Latin word vibrio, which means “to vibrate.” By detecting subtle changes in air currents, cat whiskers conduct information about the shape, size, and speed of nearby objects, helping cats navigate the world.
Whiskers: Where Are They Located? Types, And Amount
Where Are Whiskers Located?
A cat’s whiskers are not limited to just around its nose – or face -, they are most noticeable on either side of its mouth and nose, and sometimes over its eyes. You can also find some more above their ears, jaw, and forelegs.
Cats have less noticeable whiskers underneath the back of their front legs or their chin. These are shorter whiskers and blend in more with the cat’s fur. Whiskers found on the back of the legs help the cat climb trees.
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Types Of Whiskers
Cats have three sets of facial whiskers: the eyebrows (superciliary), chin whiskers (mandibular), and the most extended set, the muzzle whiskers (mystacial).
How Many Whiskers Do Cats Usually Have?
On their muzzle, cats have an even number of whiskers, with 24 in total. Each side has 12 whiskers in an entirely symmetrical distribution to help them measure the environment accurately.
Cats have 12 mystacial whiskers arranged in four rows on each side of the muzzle. The two upper rows move forward and backward, independently of the two lower rows.
Importance Of Whiskers: How Do They Work? What Are They Good For?
Whiskers accentuate a cat’s face. They frame the eyes, sort of like eyebrows, and emphasize the muzzle when a cat “smiles.” But whiskers are more than just facial improvements.
How Do They Work?
Each thick whisker has tiny nerves that are super sensitive. These nerves help your cat judge space and distance.
The follicles – which are the sacs that hold the hairs – are deep and have plenty of nerve endings that send messages to the cat’s brain.
Whiskers are more sensitive than normal hairs because the follicles come packed with nerves and blood vessels. Whiskers are as sharp as a human’s fingertips.
What Are Whiskers Good For?
Whiskers Are Good As Orientation Assistance And Body Balancers
Cats have specialized sensory organs called proprioceptors located at the ends of their whiskers. These sensors send messages to the brain regarding the position of the body and limbs. This mechanism helps cats to keep the cat aware of what every part of their body is doing. And is also part of the reason why cats always land on their feet.
Whiskers Are Good As Protectors
When touched by the tiniest particles, these sensitive hairs respond. A cat will shake or blink its head and fling it off when a speck of dust falls on a whisker above its eye. What this reaction does is protect the eye. Even a tiny dust particle can hurt.
When walking outside, if the whiskers on a cat’s muzzle find a thorny bush or a tall blade of grass, they prompt the cat to back up, so he can avoid being poked or scratched in the eye. Whiskers are also very helpful in preventing cats from getting into jams.
Whiskers helps him determine if a cat can fit through the passage without turning over the furniture and getting stuck. Whiskers are also helpful when a cat approaches a slender space between rocks, a narrow spot in the fence, or a small area between the living room sofas or chairs. So, this keeps the cat out of trouble in several ways.
Whiskers Are Good As Radar Sensors
Cats are known for their great senses of hearing and smell; however, feline vision is not so incredible. Cats can see better at a distance but have difficulty when focusing on objects up close.
Whiskers constantly send information to the brain and aid cats in “seeing” things that lie right under their noses.
As a cat draws near to something in its way, he stirs up air currents. These bounce back when they hit solid objects. These changes in air currents act like radar detectors, and whiskers detect very faint vibrations caused by them.
Whiskers Are Good As Are Night Vision Aids For Navigation
In the wild, whiskers can alert a cat to potential enemies, the presence of prey, or the location of its pack.
At home, whiskers can aid domestic cats in locating their food bowls or favorite toys at night. In other words, whisker radar helps a cat hunt at night and prevents him from bumping into objects and walls in the dark.
Whiskers Are Good To Tell You How Your Cat Is Feeling
When a cat is content and resting, whiskers take a break. However, when a cat is active, they are too. A curious and happy cat will elevate its whiskers above its eyes, giving them that surprised appearance.
If a cat feels threatened, he pulls the whiskers on its muzzle taut, flares them, and directs them forward toward where the threat is.
Whiskers Protection And Care
Whiskers Need Protection
A significant portion of the cat’s brain is strictly devoted to processing data from touch sensors. Almost 40% of the cat’s brain’s sensory area aligns with parts of the body with whiskers. Therefore, whiskers are reliable touch sensors.
Every single whisker connects to a specific spot in the brain, which means that whiskers occupy valuable neurological space in the feline body.
Whiskers Don’t Need Trimming.
Whiskers shed, same as other hairs on a cat’s body. That is normal. However, it would be best if you never trimmed them. Cutting a cat’s whiskers will cause disorientation, confusion and your cat will be scared and may decrease its special awareness.
It’s essential never to groom or cut your cat’s whiskers. By removing or damaging the whiskers, you’re preventing your cat from the multiple benefits and purposes of its whiskers.
Cutting a cat’s whiskers is like blindfolding someone; when you do that, you take away one of their ways of identifying what is in their environment.
Fun Whiskers Facts? Things You Didn’t Know About Cat Whiskers?
“Whisker” Is An Old Word
The word “whisker” dates back to around the year 1600. It came from the Middle English word “whisker,” meaning anything that whisks or sweeps. People used it to describe a human mustache or beard. Shortly after, it also became the word used for the antennae-like hair of animals — cats in this case..”
Cats Can Have Whisker Stress
A cat’s whiskers are so sensitive that, if they have to use a bowl of water or food that is narrow, the pressure on its tactile hairs can cause what is known as “whisker stress.” This type of fatigue is usually the result of the cat’s whiskers bumping up against the sides of its bowl or dish.
If you see your cat knocking food on the floor to eat or scooping food out with its paw, you probably need to consider getting a wider bowl for your cat.
Whisker Size Corresponds To The Size Of The Cat
A cat’s whiskers are consistent with the width of its body (including its hair); it uses them to know whether or not it can fit through narrow spaces. In general, the fluffier or chubbier a cat is, the longer its whiskers.
We need to protect whiskers because they are so crucial.” to a cat’s ability to function safely, either inside or outside. When petting your cat, touch the whiskers very gently along the grain. Don’t pull or pluck the whiskers. This process will be painful for your cat.
Now you should be able to understand what your cat feels through its whiskers. You can also recognize what they do. You will see the importance of this tremendous sensory tool your cat has.
Shawn Manaher is a serial entrepreneur but when he isn’t working, he loves dogs. He’s owned different pets over the years, and always gives a part of his heart to each pet.