What are Cat Whiskers Really For?
Cats are mysterious and seemingly difficult to “de-code,” but there are lots of ways to interpret how they feel. The tail, for instance, can signal a variety of moods and can either warn against contact or invite affection. Also, the eyes and ears have the potential to communicate feline emotions; we just have to be observant of their subtle changes. However, among their many physical characteristics, The Pet Experts at Elmhurst Animal Care Center believe that cat whiskers take the cake when it comes to communication – and much more.
Take a Cue
Cat whiskers on either side of the face will be relaxed when a cat feels the same way. However, they’ll come close to the face when afraid. Watch when they stand out away from the face; this indicates alertness, nervousnous, aggression, or focus.
So Very Sensitive
Whiskers are like hair except they’re much thicker, stronger, and far more sensitive. Known as vibrissae (from the Latin vibrio meaning vibrate), cat whiskers are deeply rooted into the skin. While they shed and re-grow on their own like regular hairs, clipping them is a big no-no.
It Makes Sense
Cat whiskers are connected to deeply sensitive sensory tissues located beneath the skin. They can be found on either side of the nose, along the jaw, under the chin, above the eyes, and on the front legs just behind the wrists. When these whiskers brush against an object, the nerves deep inside the follicles react. Thus, cat whiskers are employed to understand and negotiate the environment – especially in the dark.
Cats have incredible vision, but they depend on the vibrissae to make sense of an area in low light. Walls and other obstacles are “seen” by cat whiskers. In fact, even the quality and movement of the air can be sensed. This is particularly helpful when hunting.
You’ll notice that repeated touches to your cat’s whiskers will likely result in aversion. While it won’t cause pain, the nerves will react to the touches and, to protect the face, your cat may close his or her eyes or turn away from the touch.
Just Wide Enough
Another helpful quality of cat whiskers is that they’re just about as wide – tip to tip – as the entire body. This reduces the chances of a cat entering a dark space or hole smaller than their actual width.
Caring for Cat Whiskers
As we mentioned earlier, do not trim or pull cat whiskers out. Because they’re used for sensing the environment, the absence of cat whiskers can lead to disorientation and confusion (not to mention the possibility of getting stuck somewhere).
Also, try to find food and water bowls that are shallow and wide enough to accommodate them.
Please let The Pet Experts at Elmhurst Animal Care Center know if you have further questions or concerns about the secret world of cats. We can learn a lot about our feline friends if we simply stop and pay attention.