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.
 
cats whsikers
 

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.
 

Additional Readings:
 

Why Do Cats Have Whiskers? (PetMD)
Why do cats have whiskers? (How Stuff Works)
Whiskers (Wikipedia)
7 Cool Facts About Your Cat’s Whiskers
What Happens if a Cat’s Whiskers Are Damaged or Clipped
 

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5 Comments

  1. Now Mommy knows. Thank you!
    Trimming whiskers is like declawing kitties. Yuuuuuuuccckkkkk!
    I came here declawed, so Mommy takes extra care of my toesies. But she never ever trims my whiskers! When they fall out and she finds them she saves them in a little bottle. Weird, but that’s mom.
    Quinn, Carol, and Catitude recently posted…Monday MuttersMy Profile

    • I think that’s sweet that she saves them…maybe they will bring her good luck!
      KitKat recently posted…Why Do Cats Have Whiskers?My Profile

  2. Isn’t it amazing what those whiskers can do. Thanks for sharing this.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Petplan’s “Eat This, Not That!,” ~ Edible Pet Health Hazards GuideMy Profile

  3. Behind their front legs? Now that I never knew, along with the fact that they grow back if they lose one. Very interesting!
    We suspect that our old guy Conrad is getting deaf and maybe even a bit blind. But he still seems to get around OK, and I wonder if it’s the whiskers that are helping him.
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