If you ever wondered about cat’s whiskers and why your kitty has them? All felines including big cats have long protruding hairs on their face. However they’re not like human hair and serve a very important purpose. In fact, all mammals apart from humans have whiskers.
In this article you’ll discover all about cat’s whiskers including what they’re made of and why they’re vital for survival. Whether you have a moggy or exotic breed of kitty, her whiskers play an important role in how she sees the world around her.
What are whiskers made of?
Just like human hair, whiskers are made from keratin, but that’s where the resemblance ends. Your cat’s whiskers are two or three times thicker than hairs on her body which is why they’re stiff. Every cat has varying length of whiskers, and they don’t grow any longer if a cat gains weight!
Just like your cat’s coat hair, whiskers grow, fall out and are replaced. This is why you may sometimes see whiskers embedded in furniture. It’s perfectly normal so no need to panic! The time it takes for new whiskers to grow back is usually around two weeks.
Why do you see whiskers on different areas of the head?
It’s not only the muzzle that has whiskers, but other parts of the head as well. The most obvious place you’ll notice them is either side of the muzzle, but eyebrows, top of head, and jaw also have them. You may need to look closely though. In addition your kitty will have whiskers on the backs of her forelegs.
If you’re wondering how many whiskers does a cat have. If you were to count them you may find 12 on each cheek situated in rows of 4 on each side. These are the obvious ones and the thickest. Other less noticeable whisker hairs on the front legs are much shorter and blend in with the coat.
Each whisker is embedded far deeper in the skin than a normal hair. In addition there are around 100-200 nerve endings at the end of each follicle which transmit signals to the brain.
What are whiskers for?
A cat’s whiskers aren’t just adornments to her body but serve a vital role in how she sees the world. Although they’re referred to as tactile, whiskers don’t “feel things” Instead, they’re a sensory mechanism enabling your kitty to make sense of the world around her.
Your cat uses her whiskers to judge distance, enabling her to gauge how far away an object is, or whether she’ll fit into that box you left lying around!
Interestingly, if your kitty were to become fat, her whiskers wouldn’t grow any longer. In addition, kittens seem to grow into their whiskers as they’re far longer than body width at birth. Though fine to start with, they become stiffer and thicker as they grow.
Sense of balance
Your kitty relies on her whiskers for sense of balance. Without them she’d have problems walking and moving around. At the end of every whisker are sensory organs constantly sending messages to the brain about the position of her body.
This is why your kitty always manages to land on her feet when jumping from a height! You could liken whiskers to radar as they’re constantly transmitting signals.
As your cat’s near vision is poor she relies on her whiskers to “see” things right under her nose. As she moves, air currents are stirred up and bounce back from nearby objects.
Just like radar, your cat’s whiskers are able to detect very faint vibrations. Wild cats rely on their whiskers for hunting prey. Most hunts take place around dawn and dusk when small rodents are most active.
As a cat’s vision is perfect for dim light they’re able to spot tiny rodents scurrying across fields. In addition, whiskers are able to pinpoint the exact location of a field mouse or vole, making capture easier.
A cat living in the wild will also be alerted to potential predators by its whiskers. Though your kitty may be living in the safety of your home her whiskers still play a role in helping locate toys and navigate between furniture in the dark.
Your cat uses whiskers to convey emotion
If your cat is calm and relaxed her whiskers will be as well. However, when your kitty comes to greet you her whiskers may pull forward. She’s happy to see you and anticipates a stroke. An engaged cat whether hunting a toy in your living room or chasing prey will also move her whiskers forward and fan them out.
In contrast, Stress or anxiety will cause your kitty’s whiskers to move back slightly. Watch your cat’s body language if fear escalates as her whiskers move further back and her ears move close to the side.
An aggressive cat on the offence will have its ears and whiskers positioned forward ready for the attack. This could happen if your kitty is defending her territory.
Though your kitty is a master at hiding pain, there are a few giveaway signs including her whiskers. These will be slightly forward facing and the face will look tense. If you suspect your cat is in pain always call the vet as soon as possible.
Cat’s have an amazing ability to get their point across using a combination of sounds and body language. They’re highly intelligent beings capable of more than most people think.
Why your cat’s whiskers fall out
If you’re a newbie cat mum you may feel horrified to find one of your precious fur baby’s whiskers embedded in the carpet or sofa. Don’t panic! This is perfectly normal, and yes, another will take it’s place. It takes around two weeks for a whisker to grow back, and just like other hairs on your cat’s body, they grow and fall out in a cycle.
The only breed of cat that may lack whiskers is the sphinx. Some have none at all whereas others may have a few broken whiskers, or if lucky, a full set! However, those unfortunate to have none still survive ok and have learnt to adapt.
So now you all about cat’s whiskers you’ll be able to read her mood. Whiskers are very sensitive and should never be touched or played with. Make this very clear to your children if you have any.
Though most kids are loving towards pets, small children need guidance and supervision. A cat’s ability to balance and make sense of the world is totally dependant on its whiskers. From catching prey to finding a favourite toy whiskers play an important role.
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Wishing you a purrfect day:)