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Cat whiskers – what is their role?


Each cat’s whiskers may be different – white, black, very long… Whatever they are, whiskers, as we call them professionally, add incredible charm to every kitten. However, there is one very important thing to remember – their aesthetic function is the least important! So, why do cats need whiskers?

What are whiskers?

You should start by explaining what whiskers are. These are not ordinary hairs or fur extensions – they are much thicker than ordinary fur and embedded much deeper, fully innervated and vascularized sensory hairs. As the name suggests, they are a very important element of the sense of touch in cats, thanks to which these animals can move and hunt extremely efficiently, which is important, for example, when playing with a fishing rod.

Whiskers are found not only in cats, but also in dogs and many other mammals (such as rats, ferrets), and their equivalents can also be found in the flightless kiwi (in the form of sensory feathers) and catfish. At the same time, it should be admitted that among the animals mentioned above, cats have developed whiskers in the most spectacular way, thus making cats great predators.

Where are cat whiskers located?

Cat whiskers do not occur only on the cheeks, although they are most visible there. We can also find them above the animal’s eyes, on the chin, lower and upper lips, and even on the inside of the front paws. Thanks to them, the cat’s brain receives very important information about its surroundings – it is able to determine its temperature, the shape of nearby objects, and even their texture. Moreover, it will sense every slightest movement, which may allow it to both avoid danger and hunt effectively.

Cat playing

Can cats’ whiskers be cut?

After becoming familiar with the structure and function of whiskers, you may quite naturally come to the thought: “don’t touch your cat’s whiskers!” This is a very good conclusion. Do not touch your sensory hair without medically justified need! They should not be touched, pulled or cut.

Sometimes, for health reasons (example: the need to shave a cat’s face before surgery), the whiskers are cut. This is a great discomfort for the animal – it may have problems with movement and balance, which in turn may lead to accidents and dangerous situations.

Fortunately, whiskers have the ability to regenerate, so these inconveniences will be temporary. Unfortunately, in the case of a cut or torn whisker, this process can take up to three months. Sometimes it happens that a cat loses – on its own – one or two sensory hairs. The whiskers fall out on their own as they get older and new hair grows in their place. If this happens occasionally, it is not a cause for concern, especially since the whisker lost in this way regenerates relatively quickly.

Cat bowl and whiskers

What else should we remember if we don’t want to (accidentally!) irritate the whiskers? It turns out that choosing bowls from which the cat drinks and eats is important. They should be flat and wide enough so that the edges of the bowls do not irritate the cat’s sensory hair when using them. You can read more about choosing the right bowl for your pet in my article “What bowl for dogs and cats?”.

A suitable bowl for your cat will eliminate the risk of the so-called whiskers stress, which can be translated as pressure on the whiskers. This is a recently named phenomenon in which, as a result of using inappropriate dishes for cats – for example, too deep – whiskers become irritated, causing discomfort to our pet. It may manifest itself in the animal throwing food from the bowl onto the floor, because by eating from the floor it does not irritate its whiskers.

Scientific research is currently being conducted to determine how strong the connection is between a cat’s sensory hairs irritated by the bowl and its behavior. At the moment, most publications on this issue confirm that cats are more willing to choose food from bowls that are anatomically adapted to them.

Cat bowl and cat whiskers

Cat whiskers as a mood signal

Another interesting role of whiskers is the fact that with their help a cat can signal its mood to its surroundings, depending on the position they are in. When they are calm, still, loosely arranged and equidistant from each other, it means that the cat is relaxed. If they are spread out like small fans and noticeably spaced in different directions, it indicates the furry’s curiosity and increased alertness, and when they lean forward slightly, we have a clear signal of strong arousal. Be vigilant if you notice your cat’s whiskers pointing backwards – it may be about to attack! When a cat is nervous and scared, it directs its whiskers towards itself, towards its cheeks.

Angry cat

The whiskers (or colloquially – whiskers) in cats are a very important organ.They provide the animal with the opportunity to obtain all the necessary information it needs to be able to move confidently and safely, avoid dangers and hunt. They do not need any human intervention – on the contrary, you should avoid touching them as much as possible, not to mention cutting them, and carefully choose the bowls from which the cat will eat and drink.

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