Whiskers are amazing touch sensors for cats that help the them navigate in the dark or slip away from precarious situations.
Are you curious as to why cats have whiskers or what purpose they serve? Do whiskers fall off naturally? What if you cut them? Well, we’ll elicit some scientific answers to all these pertinent queries regarding cats’ whiskers in this article.
A Primer on Whisker
A cat’s whiskers also called vibrissae, highly sensitive tactile hairs that grow in patterns on a cat’s snout, and some other parts of its body, e.g., above the eyes, near the ears, jaw, and forelegs. These long stiff hairs are rooted to a follicle loaded with nerves. Also, a cat’s whisker length can be tantamount to the width of the cat itself!
Yes, cats do shed their whiskers naturally. When they shed body hair, they also sometimes shed a few whiskers at the same time. Generally, a cat has between 6-12 whiskers on each cheek. Although such whisker shedding is normal, intensive shedding may be a sign of some medical ailment, such as sores, dry patches or skin sensitivity.
What Are Cat Whiskers For?
Whiskers are a cat’s sensors. Although the shaft of the whisker is made of keratin and does not contain any nerves, the root of each whisker is connected to a sensory receptor called a proprioceptor. The proprioceptor communicates with the brain and helps the cat navigate through space.
Through the combination of whiskers and proprioceptors, the cat precisely synchronizes every part of its body, which gives the cat such quick reflexes. As the proprioceptors are extremely sensitive to vibrations, they help the cat in skillfully chasing prey by reacting to certain vibrations in the air. It’s interesting to note that a cat, unlike a human, does not have a collar bone, making it easier for them to twist and turn through narrow spaces.
Cats’ near-sight vision is poor. Therefore, these whiskers guide cats while walking and detecting obstacles in their path.
Another important function of whiskers is in helping a cat calculate whether or not it will fit through an opening. Whiskers are roughly as wide as the cat’s body, so they act as a sort of natural ruler. Additionally, these whiskers are very sensitive to pressure. You might have noticed your cat sticking its head in and out of an opening before putting their whole body through the opening. By doing this, the cat is estimating the width of the opening and deciding whether it can pass through the opening.
Indicator of Cat’s Mood
A cat’s whiskers also serve as a good indicator of the cat’s mood and personality. For example, if a cat is relaxed, its whiskers will also be relaxed. If you find the cat’s whiskers straight out or facing forward, it indicates that your cat is alert and curious. If the cat is angry (like Grumpy Cat!), its whiskers will be flattened against its face.
What Happens If You Cut a Cat’s Whiskers?
As a pet owner, you may sometimes feel that your cat’s whiskers are getting too long and feel the urge to cut them. One of the first questions that comes to mind before attempting to cut these whiskers is whether it will hurt the cat. Well, cutting won’t result in bleeding or pain, but you should avoid trimming your cat’s whiskers.
Whiskers are similar to other hair on a cat’s body, the main difference being that they are thicker and have a distinctive function. Due to the absence of nerves, there is no risk of bleeding upon cutting your cat’s whiskers, but even so, you should desist from this type of grooming. Trimming these whiskers puts feline in a precarious situation, as they use their whiskers to make sense of their environment. Without whiskers, a cat may lose its ability to orient and maneuver themselves properly in space. As mentioned earlier, since their near-sight vision is weak, without whiskers, they would find it hard to detect objects in the vicinity as they stalked around their space.
If you remove a cat’s whiskers, they won’t just find it difficult to discern objects in their path, but they also won’t be able to estimate whether or not they fit correctly into a given space. After cutting their whiskers, don’t be surprised if you find your cat becoming clumsier than usual. Also, the cat will definitely experience stress on account of being unable to use its natural abilities.
Thus, a cat’s vibrissae impart security to the cat and are an important element for every cat’s nimble mobility. By cutting these whiskers, you are making your cat partially disabled and denying its natural abilities to explore with such precision, confidence and grace!