The Cat’s Whiskers!

DrPaul -

The Cat’s Whiskers!

You might know the phrase, but what do you really know about our feline companions’ most distinguished facial features? They are of course super cute, however, they serve several incredibly important functions.

A Second Sense!
Whiskers are, in fact, essential sensory tools that serve a little bit like antennas. The hair follicle of your cat’s whisker is full of nerves making them super sensitive to vibrations and changes within their environment. These extra sensory messages give your cat a second set of eyes, which is what enables them to be such superb explorers.

Measuring The World Around Them
The whisker also acts a bit like a ruler or measuring tape because of the way they are positioned on your cat's face and body. This unique feature is so that your cat can determine whether or not they will fit into an opening or space, giving them an excellent perception of the space around them.

You might also notice your cat avoids eating directly from their food bowl or prefers to drink running water or from water sources outside. Cats HATE it when their whiskers touch the edges of their food or water bowls. They much prefer shallow wide dishes so that their whiskers don’t bump the edges of the bowl.

Who’s Short Sighted Now
Cats are in fact, quite short sighted! They are unable to easily focus on anything less than a foot in front of them. To make up for this, combined with an excellent sense of smell, is where the whiskers come into play. The whiskers will swing forwards to feel what they are unable to clearly see. This will help to determine where it is, the size and even the texture of the object in front of them.

The arrangement
Cats have perfect symmetry when it comes to their whiskers, which is one of the reasons why they have such perfectly adorable faces. There are 12 whiskers, arranged in 4 rows, on each side of the muzzle, but you won’t find them on just the face. Cats have whiskers above their eyes, around the jaw and on their forelegs.

The whiskers on the forelegs are critical hunting aids as they help your cat to determine the movement and direction of their prey.

Perfect Expression

Most importantly, when it comes to expression, these hairs will tell you a great deal about how your cat is feeling.

Rigid and pulled tight to the face : Your cat is feeling anxious, threatened or cross.

Relaxed and sticking out sideways : Your cat is calm and relaxed.

Whiskers pulled forward : This indicates that your cat is excited, alert or curious.

These special and essential hairs really are “the cat’s whiskers”!

Essential Features
So for all the reasons above, it is important that you NEVER cut your cat’s whiskers. Whilst they look super cute they are not cosmetic and form essential feline functions.  Cats would be lost without them!

Paul Manktelow

Veterinary Surgeon

Dr Paul Manktelow is a vet who's worked for almost 20 years on the front line in some of the UK's busiest veterinary hospitals. Paul also appears regularly in the media as a TV and radio presenter, writer, public speaker and podcast producer.