Whiskers are one of the most prominent features of a cat’s face and in addition to looking adorable, they serve a variety of important functions.
Anatomy of the whisker
Feline whiskers are special hairs that are found on the side of the cat’s nose and upper lip, over the top of the eyes, on their jaw line, and on the back of their front legs. Also known as vibrissae, they are two to three times as thick as ordinary hair. They are embedded deeper in the cat’s body than their regular fur.
Whiskers can change color. Dark colored cats may have a single white whisker. Whiskers can also change color as the cat ages. The Cornish Rex and Devon breeds have short, curly whiskers.
Function of whiskers
Whiskers serve as touch receptors. They are connected to the cat’s muscular and nervous system and send signals to the cat’s brain that help her interpret her surroundings. Whiskers are highly sensitive and can detect even the slightest change in an air current. This allows the cat to navigate in the dark.
Whiskers are an important tool for the hunting cat. Cats don’t see well up close, and whiskers can help the cat identify the shape of her prey, which enables her to direct the killing bite to the right spot to kill her prey instantly.
Whiskers also help the cat determine whether she will fit into a small, close space. A cat’s whiskers are generally as long as the cat is wide, allowing her to gauge whether she will fit through narrow openings.
Whiskers are an emotional barometer
Whiskers are an important part of a cat’s body language. When a cat is resting, the whiskers will be mostly immobile. When the cat gets excited, such as during play or hunting, whiskers will point forward. If whiskers point back and lay flat against the cat’s face, it can be a sign that the cat is scared, or a precursor to aggression.
Never cut your cat’s whiskers
Cats can become disoriented and even lose their sense of balance if their whiskers are cut. Even touching your cat’s whiskers may be painful for your cat. Whiskers may fall out on their own and will grow back naturally. Cat whiskers shed and grow back naturally, and should be left alone. They are a vital part of a cat’s mobility and sense of security.
If you notice your cat pulling food out of the bowl, throwing it next to the bowl, and then proceeding to eat it, or if she uses her paw to “fish” food out of her food bowl, she may be experiencing whisker fatigue, also known as whisker stress. Since whiskers are so sensitive, cats may experience pain or discomfort when they touch the sides of narrow bowls. Cats prefer shallow, wide food and water bowls.
This article was originally published on Answers.com and is republished with permission.