Function of Cat Whiskers – Everything You Should Know


short fur white and black cat

Apart from looking super cute, your cat’s whiskers actually have an important purpose, and your cat would be lost without them. There is more than meets the eye with your cat’s whiskers so let’s look at why they are so important.

Cats are pretty remarkable creatures. They are athletic and agile, and do they have superior night vision, but they also have their own personal radar in the form of their whiskers. 

What are cat whiskers?

A cat’s whiskers, also known as vibrissae, are tactile hairs that help cats to sense their surroundings. They use them to feel and detect objects close by and detect changes in the surrounding airflow that might alert them to nearby predators. They serve as an essential sensory tool for cats.

Why do cats have whiskers?

Cat whiskers act as an essential sensory tool for cats which they use for several different purposes. 

All cats have superior night vision but they can’t see close-by objects very well. Their whiskers serve as a tool to detect nearby objects that are too close to see clearly. Secondly, cat whiskers are so sensitive that they can detect slight changes in airflow, which could indicate nearby animals or predators. 

Whiskers have several other functions such as triggering reflexes, a navigation tool in darkness or measuring the width of a narrow space or entrance. They also help them to climb and determine the distance to their prey. You see, whiskers are really a cat’s sixth sense.

Should you trim or cut your cat’s whiskers?

Cat whiskers should never be trimmed or taken out because by doing so, you reduce your cat’s ability to sense its surroundings. Trimming a cat’s whiskers could lead to your cat being disoriented, nauseous, or frightened.

To your cat, cutting their whiskers is comparable to blindfolding them or plugging their ears. You’re taking away an essential sense they depend on every day.

Why do cat whiskers fall out?

Just like normal hairs, a cat’s whiskers need to be renewed every once in a while. It is the body’s way of regenerating itself. Whiskers that fall out regrow automatically within a few weeks. If your cat loses excessive amounts of hair or whiskers, it could be a sign of stress. In that case it’s best to consult your vet.

Do whiskers help cats to see at night?

Cats have superior night vision, but a cat’s whiskers also play an vital role in finding their way in the dark. Because of their sensitivity, whiskers can pick up faint air currents in a room and allow cats to detect obstacles from a distance, even in total darkness.

Whiskers help cats to measure if they’ll fit

Have you ever seen how a cat can fit into the most narrow spaces? How do they know beforehand if they will fit inside or not? It turns out that their whiskers funciton as measuring tapes.

Before a cat squeezes into a small and narrow space, they carefully stick their heads into the opening. It might seem like they’re trying to smell something when they’re doing that because you will notice their nose and upper lips move as they do this.

They actually measure the width of the opening by moving their whiskers and touching the edges. The ends of the whiskers at either side are placed around the width of your cat’s body. They know, if their whiskers fit, so will the rest of their body.

How do whiskers protect a cat?

Whiskers help cats to map out and sense their environment; however, they are also essential in the protection of a cat’s head and especially the eyes. The whiskers are so sensitive that the slighted touch will trigger their reflexes, be it a spec of dust or an enemy cat paw. 

The whiskers above the eyes are comparable to human eyelashes, which also protect the eyes from foreign objects by triggering a blink reflex.

brown cat with long whiskers

Why do cat whiskers turn black or white?

Just like human hairs tend to get grey over time, a cat’s whiskers can change color as they get older as well. It’s not uncommon for whiskers to change from dark to lighter shades or vice versa but it’s also not something that happens to all cats.

What do whiskers say about your cat’s mood?

If you observe your cat closely, you might have noticed that they can move their whiskers, unlike other hairs on their body. That is because whiskers are deeply rooted in the skin and are connected to muscles. 

A cat’s whiskers can give you insight into your cat’s emotions at a specific moment. If their whiskers are pushed forward, it indicates that they are curious or investigative. If they’re rigidly pulled back around their face, it usually means they feel threatened. Relaxed whiskers show happiness and content.

Do whiskers grow back?

Whiskers that were lost, clipped or otherwise damaged will grow back in their original spot. A whisker that was completely lost will usually grow back in a few week’s time. In case your cat experienced major trauma to the hair follicle, a lost whisker may never grow back but this is quite rare.

Whiskers do not grow slower or faster depending on a cat’s age but roughly at the same pace during a cat’s entire lifetime. 

How long will whiskers grow?

The length of a whisker is genetically determined and after they reach a certain length, they will stop growing and they’ll remain roughly the same length for your cat’s entire lifetime. Whiskers do not grow indefintely and therefore they do not need to be cut or clipped.

Why do cat whiskers curl?

You many have seen cats with curly whiskers and wondered why that is? Is it genetically determined or does it serve a specific purpose?

Whiskers do not curl naturally. In case a cat’s whiskers are curled it is because the cat did this herself. Some cats like to overly groom their whiskers. When the wet their whiskers and then pull them with their paws repeatedly, they cause them to curl up at the ends. This happens easier with cat breeds that naturally have, thinner whiskers.

How many whiskers does a cat have?

Cats have 24 whiskers on their face in total, 12 on each side. The whiskers are placed in the same positions on the left and right sides. Because of this symmetry, cats can accurately measure and sense the environment.

Why do cats have whiskers above their eyes?

In principle, all whiskers serve the same purpose; sensing the environment and protection. The whiskers above a cat’s eyes also protect the eyes by triggering an eye-reflect if something comes close. It basically works the same way as with humans who close their eyes if something touches our eye lashes.

Because these whiskers are very sensitive, a cat’s eye reflex will be triggered by even the tiniest spec of dust.

Why do cats have whiskers on their legs?

Cats have whiskers on their legs to help them sense objects close to them and within their grasp. Because cats don’t see a lot of detain up close, this is very helpful when navigating around objects or when sneaking up on prey.

You have probably observed cats navigating complex parcours with great ease and without knocking something over while not carefully looking at where they put down their feet. This is thanks to their paw whiskers.

What is cat whisker fatigue?

Because a cat’s whiskers are so sensitive, your cat might experience sensory overload or discomfort if they are triggered continuously for no reason. Constant stimulation of their whiskers may annoy them or even stress them out.

If your cat tries to avoid its whiskers being touched, It’s best to not constantly touch them as it may be unpleasant to your cat. Some cats are more sensitive to this than others and just touching their whiskers when petting them should be perfectly fine.

People often wonder why some cats tend to take their food out of their bowl and eat it from the floor instead. Whisker fatigue might be the cause of this. Some cats dislike their whiskers constantly touching the edge of the bowl while eating. You can easily fix this for your cat by getting a wider feeding bowl or one with lower edges.

Why are my cat’s whiskers droopy?

When a cat’s whiskers are relaxed and drooping down, it means your cat is relaxed and content. This is a good moment to approach your cat because they feel safe in the environment they are in.

why are my cat’s whiskers pointing forward?

Cat’s whiskers that are pointing forward usually mean that your cat is excited about something or looking at something interesting. It might be investigating or sneaking up on a pray. The reason why the whiskers are pointed forward is to make them extra sensitive to what’s going on.

short fur white and black cat

Why are my cat’s whiskers pointing straight backward?

When a cat’s whiskers are rigidly pointing backward, this is usually a sign of stress, anger or a frightened cat. When you see this, it’s best to not touch your cat but make it feel at ease.

Why do my cat’s whiskers keep breaking off?

Whiskers can fall out over time, just like normal hairs fall out. Broken whiskers might indicate that your cat has been in a fight or a rough play. Broken or lost whiskers will grow back and it doesn’t cause your cat any pain. 

Usually it’s nothing to worry about but if your cat suddenly loses a lot of whiskers it might point at a health issue and you should consult with your vet.

Cat & Friends

At Cat & Friends we are passionate about everything feline. We are a team of cat parents and writers who love to write about everything related to cats. Our goal is to provide the most helpful and accurate information about our little furry friends through extensive research and experience.

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