Your cat’s whiskers are like its own Swiss Army knife

Cat Whiskers -- The Hot Mess Press

A cat’s whiskers do a whole lot more than complete the cute picture. Without them, your cat will be like you losing your sense of touch and a significant percentage of your vision. These coarse hairs serve several vital purposes. They are built-in measuring tapes, radar systems and more.

Fat Cat
Chubby cat

Cats’ whiskers not limited to their faces

If you thought your cat’s whiskers were limited to those around its nose, you’d be wrong. They all have eight to twelve pairs of whiskers arranged symmetrically on both sides of its snout. This is not where the symmetry ends because they have whiskers above their ears, eyes, forelegs and jaws. Interestingly, the whiskers on its forelegs give your cat its extraordinary hunting abilities. This is because the whiskers help them determine the prey’s movements.

Cat paw whiskers
Whiskers on cat’s front paw

Whiskers are deeper rooted and thicker than fur

Each whisker is rooted deeply into a base loaded with nerves and a generous supply of blood. This makes the tips extremely sensitive. It is about two or three times thicker than its fur. Their official name, vibrissae, comes from a Latin word that means vibration. The sensory organs in their tips allow an incredible sensitivity to vibrations and environmental changes. For example, they will prevent the cat from missing even the slightest direction change of a breeze. They also use their whiskers to determine the distance, direction and surface texture of objects.

Cat and prey
Cat approaching prey

Cat’s are farsighted

Did you know that your cat’s vision is excellent for when it looks at something at a distance? However, cats struggle to see anything up close. This is where the other whiskers come in. When your cat approaches its prey, it uses all the different whiskers to sense when the prey is in the perfect position to launch an attack.

Cat in small space
Cats use them to measure small spaces and openings

They form a built-in tape measure

Have you ever noticed how your cat sticks its head into an opening before going through it? That is to measure the opening’s size. Their whiskers are typically as long as their bodies are wide, and if they fit in the opening, the cat knows that it will fit through. The cat uses all the different ones to gauge the tightness of a space. Some people say the whiskers grow longer if their cats gain weight and get chubbier, but that has not been proved yet.

Cat night vision
Cats have excellent night vision

Whiskers help with night vision

I bet you have noticed that your cat’s night vision is much better than yours. For example, your cat will move about a room in the dark without bumping into anything. Along with better night vision, your cat’s sensitive bristle ends pick up the different air currents, depending on the different furniture pieces’ location. The sensors send that information to the cat’s brain, which then navigates the route around and over furniture in the dark of night.

Cat mood
They give away mood swings

Whiskers act as an emotional barometer

You might be all too aware of your cat’s changing moods. Now, make a point of studying its whiskers when next you see a mood swing. For example, if the kitty pulls those on its cheeks back, she might show anger or feel threatened or scared. Relaxed ones indicate content and happiness and pushed forward usually mean that the kitty is curious and interested to have a closer look at something. However, her body language, such as the tail movement and the ears, could also be telling in your cat’s mood.

Cats feeding
Cats prefer eating from flat, wide plates

Your cat can experience whisker stress

Have you noticed your cat scooping its food out of the bowl before eating it? This happens when the feeding bowl is too narrow. If your cat’s cheek, ear and eye whiskers touch the side of the bowl when it eats, it leads to an overload of sensory reactions and causes  stress. Replacing the bowl with a flatter plate or wider bowl will avoid the stressed response.

Cat whiskers
They protect the cat’s face

Facial protection

The facial whiskers, including those above the eyes and ears, serve as protection against sharp objects or tiny particles that might get into their eyes or injure their faces.

Whiskers shed and change color

You might have noticed that your cat sheds whiskers. However, it grows back again quickly. Furthermore, as the kitty gets older, they may change color and become gray. But hey, that happens to all of us, right?

Lastly, but equally important…

Never, ever cut or trim your cat’s whiskers. They are vital for many things, and cutting them could cause disorientation and fear. The navigation signals of the sensitive hairs are crucial. Imagine living with a  blindfold for one or two weeks, and know how your cat will feel with trimmed or cut whiskers.

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