The way a cat looks is part of what makes them so appealing. A thick, shiny feline coat is downright splendid, and we love to run a hand from their perky ears all the way to the tail. But another feature that draws us in lines the sides of the nose, dots the spots above the eyes, emphasizes the bottom of the chin and scores the backs of their front legs.
Indeed, cat whiskers are inexorably part of a feline’s handsome aesthetic, but they offer more than looks alone.
Form and Function
All mammals, except for humans, echidnas, and duck-billed platypuses, come fully equipped with whiskers of variable form and function. Take, for example, walruses that have anywhere between 400-700 single whiskers on either side of the nose. Like otters and seals, these “tactile hairs” help them find prey underwater. Even dog’s whiskers help give them an understanding of spatial awareness.
Cat whiskers, however, take the cake in the many ways they perform!
V is for Vibrissae
Whiskers are like regular hairs but they are 2-3 times thicker, and are rooted deeper into the skin where they’re covered in nerves and blood vessels. Known as vibrissae, whiskers “vibrate” in order to pick up signals from the surrounding environment. At the tip of each whisker, proprioceptors gather information and send it directly to the brain.
Because of their amazing, vibrating vibrissae, cats have the uncanny ability to “see” things around them, even when conditions compromise the excellent vision.
Cat whiskers can sense the size, shape and location of prey in low lighting. They can also detect air currents and surface texture. Incredibly, whiskers also alert cats to possible encroaching predators, help them correct their body’s position when falling, and lead them out of small spaces.
Twitchy Cat Whiskers
What’s even more amazing about this mammalian feature is that cat whiskers can communicate what kind of mood we can expect. Like a barometer predicts the weather, whiskers can give us great insight into feline feelings. When tucked back against the face in a taut, tense fashion, a cat isn’t really in the mood for a snuggle. When pushed out in a way perpendicular to the face, they may feel curious or about to engage in a hunt.
Care and Respect
Aside from the fact that cats rely on their whiskers to help them process their surroundings, it might bring them some discomfort to have them cut or pulled out. They may naturally fall out occasionally, but they will regrow. Also, try to not overstimulate their whiskers during grooming, snuggling, or teeth brushing sessions. As they are highly sensitive to touch, this may make them aggravated or aggressive.
We Love Cats
Cat whiskers are definitely charming assets to already appealing faces, and we can’t help but admire them. If you have further questions about the care of cat whiskers or feline behavior, please let us know. We’re always happy to help at Leon Valley Veterinary Hospital.