Why Do Cats Have Whiskers?
Cats certainly aren’t the only mammal with whiskers, hamsters, rats, dogs, even some sea mammals such as seals and manatee have whiskers. They are called Vibrissae (derived from the Latin “vibrio” meaning to vibrate) and aid the cat in sensing their surroundings. They are highly sensitive and help the cat navigate the world.
A cat’s whiskers are special vibrassae hairs (which are really nothing more than longer and thicker fur) on their face, above their eyes and behind their front legs. They are 2-3 times thicker than normal fur and are rooted very deep in the cat’s body and connected to highly sensitive nerves. By using the whiskers as sensors or radar, they allow the cat to detect the slightest breeze or change in atmosphere and are one of the reasons cats can move around in the dark so easily.
At the tip of each whisker, there is a sensory organ called a proprioceptor. The proprioceptor helps the cat ‘feel’ and understand it’s physical boundaries and determine their space in the world – more simply, it helps them determine if they can fit in that box or behind that refrigerator. They also help the cat calculate distance, as in figuring out if they can make that jump to that window sill from the sofa.
A cat may lose a whisker, but it will grow back. But, given the whiskers importance to the cat’s navigation, they should never be trimmed.