Ever wonder why your cat has whiskers? Turns out that they’re not just meant to give your cat a more majestic look. Your cat’s whiskers actually serve a few vital functions in their everyday comings and goings. This is due to the fact that your cat’s whiskers are actually a different type of hair called vibrissae hairs. Though humans do have some vibrissae hairs (in our nostrils), it appears to be safe to say that cats put theirs to better use. Cat Behavior Associates helps break down the purpose of whiskers for us.
Directions And Spatial Awareness
A cat’s whiskers are quite coarse, contain an abundance of nerve endings and are more deeply rooted than the rest of its hair. This makes them ideal for helping your cat perceive what’s ahead as it charges nose first into unchartered territory. The most obvious whiskers, which tend to appear in even the most rudimentary drawings of cats, are the muzzle whiskers, or those protruding from either side of your cat’s nose. Your cat relies on these muzzle whiskers to perform two essential functions. The first is assisting with directional orientation. We’ve discussed how cats see rather well in the dark, but their whiskers also assist them in avoiding obstacles by sensing slight changes in the direction of an air current. Such a directional shift can indicate an impediment to their forward march. Similarly, and perhaps more well known, are the whisker’s value in enhancing your cat’s spatial awareness. The muzzle whiskers are supposed to be approximately the same width as your cat (though feline obesity can skew this proportion), so your cat can test whether or not it will be able to fit through a tight space by using its whiskers as a measuring device.
Protecting The Eyes
Your cat also has a few whiskers that protrude from above each eye, almost like your grandpa’s eyebrows. These, though less iconic than the muzzle whiskers, are just as vitally important. When your cat is walking or running through tall grass or low-hanging branches, these whiskers trigger an automatic blinking reflex to protect your cat’s precious eyes. When a potentially harmful item (even including a human hand) comes within grazing distance of these whiskers, your cat will involuntarily blink to protect its eyes.
Even less well known than the eyebrow whiskers are the carpal whiskers that exist on the inner side of your cat’s wrists. That’s right! Take a look. They’re there. These are most crucial when your cat is out hunting, and they aid in a couple major ways. Just as sensitive as the eyebrow and muzzle whiskers, and capable of detecting the slightest movement, these carpal whiskers allow your cat to feel any motion in a captured prey. Also, because of cats’ inability to see fine detail at close range, these whiskers play a vital role in helping your cat situate its prey so as to position it perfectly for the fatal blow.
Your cat’s whiskers are extremely important in many different aspects of its life, and so it’s of the utmost importance to never, ever trim or remove your cat’s whiskers. Not only will it prevent your cat from going about its business as it does naturally, but, because of the density of nerve endings and the sensitivity of these hairs, it can actually cause your cat pain. So, admire your cat’s whiskers, and don’t fret if you find a loose one on the ground. They fall out, but they grow back again, too.