Hi stranger! Signing up for MypetMD is easy, free and puts the most relevant content at your fingertips.

Get Instant Access To

  • 24/7 alerts for pet-related recalls

  • Your own library of articles, blogs, and favorite pet names

  • Tools designed to keep your pets happy and healthy



or Connect with Facebook

By joining petMD, you agree to the Privacy Policy.

Why Do Cats Have Whiskers?

ADVERTISEMENT

 

 

Cats possess many physiological attributes that give them their astounding athletic abilities; one of the most prominent features all cats share that enables this are whiskers. But why exactly do cats have whiskers?

 

The Anatomy of the Whisker

 

A common mistake people make is assuming that cat whiskers and human hair are alike. The whiskers, unlike human hair, are actually touch receptors. These longer, stiffer hairs -- also called vibrissae -- are embedded more deeply in the cat’s body than the shorter top-fur coat. The vibrissae are connected securely to the sensitive muscular and nervous systems, sending information about the surroundings directly to the cat’s sensory nerves, giving it a heightened sense of feeling and helping the cat to detect and respond to changes in its surroundings - sort of like kitty radar.

 

A cat’s tactile hairs may be the most prominent on either side of its nose and upper facial lip. You may be also able to see shorter whiskers above each of the eyes (kind of like eyebrows). But did you know that cats also have whiskers on their jaw line and on the back of their front legs?

 

Thou Shall Not Cut Your Cat’s Whiskers!

 

Another common mistake is presuming that cat whiskers should be trimmed. Some cats, like the Devon Rex, even have curly facial whiskers, so you might think that it wouldn’t be harmful to straighten them out with a little trim. You'd be wrong!

 

Grooming, trimming or cutting off a cat’s whiskers is a big no-no. Without their tactile hairs, cats become very disoriented and frightened. In short, whiskers enable cats to gauge and make sense of their environment. Whiskers do grow back, but cats need their whiskers to remain intact in the same way you and I need our touch senses to get around. That is, cats use their whiskers in the same way that we use the touch receptors in our finger tips to feel our way around in the darkness, and to alert us to potentially painful situations.

 

Cat whiskers shed and grow back naturally, and should be left alone.

 

Feeling Their Way Around – Even in the Dark

 

Cats have a sensory organ at the end of their whiskers called a proprioceptor, which sends tactile signals to the brain and nervous system. The proprioceptor is related to the position of the body and limbs, an important part of knowing where every part of the body is so that decisions can be made for the next immediate movement. This organ makes the cat’s whiskers very sensitive to even the smallest change in the cat’s environment. A cat’s whiskers not only help it to gauge whether it can fit into a tight space (without even being able to see it), they can even respond to vibrations in the air, such as when the cat is chasing prey.

 

Whiskers also serve as a way for cats to visually measure distance, which is why they are able to leap so quickly and gracefully onto a narrow ledge or out of harm’s way.

 

Comments  0

Leave Comment

Sign up for the Cat Care Journal

Monthly expert tips and stage-by-stage advice to help care for your cat.

By subscribing you agree to receive special offers from Pet360 Inc and Church & Dwight Co., Inc., the makers of ARM & HAMMERTM.

Common cat Questions

  • Q: Why do kittens purr?

    View Answers
  • Q: What are some signs of stress in kittens?

    View Answers
  • Q: How can I stop my kitten from climbing up on my shelves and other high places?

    View Answers
View All

Featured Breed

Alya

Savannah Cat

Featuring Alya
The Savannah is an unusual, exotic breed of domestic cat that looks much like its ancestor, the African Serval, but is smaller in size. One of the features that make this breed so unique...

LEARN MORE