Why Do Cats Have Whiskers?

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cat whiskersWhiskers just make a cat that much more adorable. No cat drawing is ever complete without a few lines on each side of the cat’s face. What you might not know is that cats also have whiskers above their eyes, their chins, and the backs of their front legs. It can be more noticeable on some cats than others. A cat’s whiskers are vital to how they sense the world and get around. Whiskers are your cat’s GPS system.

What is a Cat Whisker?

A lot of people assume whiskers are just like our human hairs, but they’re not. Whiskers are stiff touch receptors, and they are embedded into the cat beyond just the top coat of their fur. Whiskers are also called vibrissae, meaning long, stiff hairs that are connected to the nervous system and muscular system.

Kelly Meister, author of Crazy Critter Lady, explains it this way, “Cat whiskers are sensory organs that provide your cat with additional information; they work in tandem with the cat’s other senses. Whiskers are connected to a cat’s muscular and nervous systems, and give the cat more details about his surroundings. Cats rely on those whiskers as much as they rely on hearing and sight: while Fluffy’s eyes can see that hole in the wall where the mouse disappeared, her whiskers will tell her whether or not the hole is too small for her to go into.”

How do Cat Whiskers Work?

These cat radars help a cat detect things in their surroundings, and determine whether they will fit through a tight spot. They also detect changes in their surroundings, such as wind. When the whiskers sense something that information goes through the muscular system to the nervous system. Then, the cat can decide what to do with the information received.

Do I Need to Cut My Cat’s Whiskers?

cat whiskers
© Can Stock Photo Inc. barsik

Another sad mistake is thinking you must cut or trim your cat’s whiskers. If a cat’s whiskers are cut the cat will become disoriented and scared. It is also painful for the cat. While whiskers do grow back, cats need them in order to make sense of the world around them. We use touch to understand our environment. Cats use their whiskers. You might find a whisker here and there when cleaning. They do shed from time to time, and that is normal. They will grow back naturally. Never cut a cat’s whiskers.

Getting Around in the Dark

When we have to get around in the dark we use our touch sensors, like when we put our hands out to see if there’s anything in front of us. Cats use their whiskers to feel around in the dark by using a sensory organ known as proprioceptors. This sends signals through the muscular and nervous system so a cat can figure out their surroundings. Cat whiskers are extremely sensitive. It also helps them be good hunters by sensing vibrations in the air. Whiskers are even the reason as to why they leap from one spot to another so easily and gracefully. The whiskers help them visually measure distance.

Cat Moods Showing in Their Whiskers

Have you ever wondered how your cat was feeling? The whiskers can tell you! If a cat’s whiskers are lying flat against the face they are scared. When the whiskers are pointing forward they are hunting. You probably see this during play time. Whiskers will be relaxed when your cat is relaxed.

Cats are outstanding hunters and acrobats due to their whiskers. Those vibrissae are also really cute.

Featured Image: Thinkstock

 

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Nicky LaMarco has been a freelance writer since 2001. Nicky is an experienced ghostwriter and copywriter. She also writes for a variety of magazines. Nicky lives in Maine with her husband, two daughters, and two cats. Learn more about her at www.nickylamarco.com.

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