Everything You Wanted to Know About Cat WhiskersPublished October 28, 2011
As I encounter cat lovers, both on the Internet and in real life seeking information about their cats in order to unravel some of their mysteries, one of the most frequently asked questions I am asked is: "Why do cats have whiskers and what is their purpose?"
Why Do Cats Have Whiskers?
Cats use their whiskers for a wide variety of reasons. They provide some of the most important feedback for cats to gather data about their environment. They also use them to communicate their emotions. As an essential addition to their "navigational" equipment, it is crucial to never trim them or cut them off.
What Would Happen If Cat's Didn't Have Whiskers?
Without whiskers, cats become confused and often lost. Similar to radar, Cats use whiskers to "feel" their boundaries and to gauge distances to ascertain the size and shape of objects, and to discover if their bodies will fit into tight spaces. Whiskers help guide them in the dark to avoid running into objects.
Whiskers: Used for Communication and Mood Expression
Cats communicate with their whiskers, and they are an excellent mood indicator. Learning to "read" your cat's whiskers will give you crucial hints about your cat's emotional state and if they are open to contact or wish to remain undisturbed.
Pulled back whiskers translate into anger or defensiveness, whereas whiskers that are relaxed and pushed forward let you know that your cat is curious about something. It also can mean that your cat is happy and content. They indicate openness to connection.
How Many Whiskers Do Cats Have?
Did you know that cats have approximately 24 whiskers on their face, arranged twelve to each side of the nose, in four horizontal rows? There are also special cat "whiskers" on their paws, eyes, chin and legs, but many folks do not consider them to be "true" cat whiskers, but more like "feelers". These additional whiskers are also utilized for sensing objects, textures and boundaries.
Are There Different Types of Cat Whiskers?
Some breeds of cats, such as the Devon Rex, have curly whiskers. They are sufficiently long enough, even with their curly shapes to get around. Amazingly, I have actually met people who wanted to learn how to straighten them, which I cannot understand; doing so would seriously destroy their whisker mechanism.
That is why it is so important to leave your cat's whiskers alone. Cats are at a great disadvantage without them, as they depend on them for so many things. Blind cats can get around very well using not only their keen sense of smell and hearing, since they greatly rely on their whiskers for guidance, almost identically to humans who are blind and use canes to negotiate their environment.
Can Cat Whiskers Shed?
From time to time you may notice a stray cat whisker on the floor. Cats do shed their whiskers as new whiskers are replaced. I have been known to save a whisker or two as a sentimental treasure.
Why do you think some folks cut their cat's whiskers? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.
P.S. We've got answers to the cat whisker health questions you left in the comments!