Whenever you touch your cat, you may not realize that the skin underneath all that fur is quite sensitive. And the fur that covers kitty is specialized sensory hairs. Researchers have not figured out much regarding how the hairs on kitty's body are used except for the whiskers - who many people do not even realize constitutes itself as a type of hair on felines.
The whiskers on the face of a cat - the ones that stretch out from their muzzle - have a count total of twenty four. There are twelve on each side and they are arranged in four horizontal rows. They are, of course, the strongest and stiffest of all the different types of hair on kitty's body. And, perhaps they are the most important because they extend a cat's sense of touch beyond the surface area of the body alone.
Cats depend on all of their whiskers to help see and feel their surroundings, including using them to navigate in dark, dim and close-quartered situations. Cats are such excellent navigators at night, not only because their eyesight is so extraordinary in low light but, also, because of those movable, informative whiskers, known as vibrissae.
On the back of the kitty's front legs, which might be called their wrists, there is another set of whiskers used for several purposes. When prowling low to the ground in dark conditions, those set of whiskers can help feel where the feet are stepping when locating its prey. These whiskers also aid in the sense of touch while using their paws to handle objects too close for them to actually see.
Aside from those tactile hairs on each of the front legs and the muzzle, whiskers are found extending from three other locations on the cat's body - the lips, eyebrows and chin. Finally, to explain the extreme importance of the delicate, yet extremely tough, tactile hairs, it is interesting to note that the first types of hair which begins to grow on a kitten in the mother's womb are, surprisingly enough, those highly perceptive and exceptionally expressive hairs known as whiskers.
Kitty's face and front paws are the most sensitive places on their bodies, where most of the nerve cells are concentrated. These are the most important body parts the cat uses while hunting. Your cat's paws are specifically pressure-sensitive, and some researchers believe they can even sense tiny vibrations.
Since cats cannot tell you when they feel pain, you must evaluate your feline's mood, actions and regular or irregular daily activity. Some researchers even think that constant petting not only causes irritation, it may also cause static electricity and even actual pain because of the cat's unique nervous system. We've probably all experienced the gentle stroking of a relaxed cat who, suddenly, turns around and bites the hand that pets them. While it may seem a mystery to you, the cat certainly has a reason.
For instance, if a cat has a painful medical condition, your touch or even kitty's perception that they may be touched in a painful area could cause the aggressive behavior. Take your cat to a veterinarian to find out if your feline has a medical condition such as arthritis in the neck, back or hip joints, a sore tooth or perhaps an ear infection, which is worsened when being petted.
Be sure to recognize the warning signs in your cat and stop petting them before they become aggressive (due to pain or sudden fear) and hurt someone. Your cat cannot talk, unfortunately, and tell us how and where to touch them or if they feel like being touched at all. Sometimes they may wish to be left alone and only you must learn to recognize the signals kitty sends you. While cats are a fascinating specimen of sensitive skin, hair and paws, they are also your sensitive furry friends who, in most cases, enjoy the sense of touch from their favorite human - YOU.
Sandra L. Toney has been writing about cats for 15 years. An award-winning author of eight books, such as "The Simple Guide to Cats" and "The Little Book of Cat Tricks," Toney is a professional member of the Cat Writers' Association. She lives in Indiana with her husband and three spoiled felines.
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