Many people wrongly assume that cat’s whiskers and human’s facial hair are essentially the same thing, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. Cats don’t just have whiskers to make them look more distinguished. Cats are very athletic animals, and many of their physiological characteristics play a part in that. You may not really know why cats have whiskers, but you will soon see just how important they are to them.
First, we will take a closer look at the anatomy of cat whiskers. Many people assume that a cat’s whiskers are like human hair, when in fact they are touch receptors. They are much longer and stiffer than the normal fur, and the actual hairs are known as vibrissae. They are embedded deeply in the body of the cat, unlike their shorter top coat of fur.
These hairs are connected to the nervous and muscular systems, and they send out information about the cat’s surroundings which helps them to get around and understand their surroundings.
Most people have seen the cat’s whiskers on either side of their face, but did you know that there are also whiskers found above their eyes that are a lot like eyebrows? There are even whiskers on your cat’s jaw line and on the backs of their front legs.
Whiskers Help Cats to Feel Their Way Around
Even when your cat is in the dark, they have the uncanny ability to be pretty stealthy. This is because their whiskers help them feel their way around. The ends of the whiskers have what is known as a proprioceptor and it sends impulses to the nervous system and the brain to let them know that something is near.
These receptors are based on body position, and it helps the cat to know which direction is safe- even when they are in pitch black darkness. You might even say that cats can feel their way around with their whiskers much like you would with your fingertips in a dark room.
Whiskers are also great when it comes to letting your cat know what size spaces they can fit into. Believe it or not, your cat’s whiskers are about as wide across as their body, and this is for good reason. It will let them know whether they can fit into a tight space or not, so that they can defend themselves or hide from predators. You may have noticed that your cat tends to poke his head through an opening a few times before actually trying to proceed. This is their way of being able to tell if they will fit through an opening or into a space.
They also pick up on changes and vibrations in the air with their whiskers, which will let them know which way the wind is blowing! They can even help your cat to measure distances to see if they can land gracefully onto something narrow. This is perhaps why cats tend to be so agile.
Whiskers Protect the Eyes
There are a variety of different ways that the whiskers can prove to be useful. As we mentioned earlier, there are a set of whiskers above each eye. This can help the cat when they are hunting in grassy areas. By swiftly blinking their eyes, they can keep their eyes safe from the grass and debris. The eyes will reflexively blink when these whiskers are touched.
Your cat’s eyes are very sensitive, and they must make sure that they have a way to keep them protected. This is just part of their body’s way of protecting them.
As you can see, a cat’s whiskers are extremely important. This is part of their biological makeup that helps them to thrive, especially out in the wild. While it is an extremely important part of their anatomy, there are a lot of cool facts that you may not have known about cat’s whiskers. For instance, did you know that they can sometimes be a bother to the cat?
Fun Facts About a Cat’s Whiskers
- A cat’s whiskers are known by several terms. Whiskers, of course, is the common terminology, but they are also known as vibrissae, and sometimes tactile hairs.
- The average cat has around 24 movable whiskers on their face. There are 12 on either side of the nose. There are also other whiskers found on the back side of the front legs, under the chin, and above the eyes.
- A cat’s whiskers are actually around 2 to 3 times thicker than their normal hair. They even resemble the thickness of a safety pin.
- The whiskers are not only thicker, but are also embedded about 3 times deeper in the skin.
- Your cat can actually indicate their mood based on the position of their whiskers. For instance, if they feel defensive their whiskers may pull back. If they are happy and content, they will likely be sticking out to the side like normal. Pay close attention to the position of their whiskers to see how they are really feeling.
- Cutting their whiskers can make them confused or disoriented, and it can even be painful. You should never, ever cut a cat’s whiskers- no matter what!
- Whiskers can bother a cat when they try to eat out of a bowl because they will touch the sides of the bowl. This is due to the extreme sensitivity of the whiskers. Some cats will even take food out of the bowl and eat it off of the floor to avoid the discomfort. It may be worth feeding your cat out of a shallow dish instead.
- Whiskers will shed and then be replaced again naturally. You shouldn’t be alarmed if you see your cat’s whiskers around your house from time to time. It is normal, and they will grow again.
- Whiskers can even change colors! Sometimes they may grow one white whisker in a sea of black ones, or maybe the other way around. This is normal, and it comes with aging. It is a lot like grey hair.
- Mother kittens have been known to nibble their baby kitten’s whiskers so that they won’t wander off until they are older. This is a way for them to protect their young, and is especially prominent in the wild. Just because a mother cat nibbles away the whiskers, doesn’t mean it is okay to cut them.
- Cats that have vision impairments depend greatly on their whiskers to help them out. This is very similar to the way that visually impaired people depend on a cane or other useful tools to help them get around.
A Common Misconception
Last, but not least, you may have heard that a cat’s whiskers can actually play a part in their balance. While this is something that people commonly believe, it is a common misconception.
Their balance and coordination actually come from their inner ear, which is something that most mammals have in common. While the whiskers are definitely sensory organs, it doesn’t mean that they dictate whether or not your cat will have a good sense of balance. If you notice that your cat’s balance is impaired, it may not really have anything to do with their whiskers at all. There may be an inner ear problem that needs to be addressed. This is something worth talking to your veterinarian about.
Now that you know more than you used to about cat whiskers, you may have a deeper appreciation for your cat. Their anatomy and physiology are so very exquisitely designed. Each feature has a unique physiological job that helps them to not only live, but to actually be able to thrive. When you notice just how agile your cat is when jumping from one place to another throughout your home, you can rest assured that their whiskers are really to thank for this one.
They say some people are ‘dog people’ and others are ‘cat people’. I’m a cat person! I got my first cat when I was in the 2nd grade. I had to beg my mom to let me keep him. He was an orange tabby, and I have been partial to them ever since! We currently have three cats.
Being a cat person, I am always trying to learn more about why cats do the things they do. Cats are such loving animals, but they can be so fickle. I guess I can kind of relate to their behavior, and that is probably what attracts me to them.