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  • Writer's pictureShannon McKinzie

What Purpose Do Cat Whiskers Serve?

You may wonder what purpose cat whiskers serve? Whiskers assist to gauge and make sense of their environment. They help navigate in the dark and even reveal their mood. Cat Whiskers are crucial and should never be cut, regardless of the breed or style of whisker.

Whisker Anatomy Is More Interesting Than One Might Think

Cat's whiskers, are touch receptors. These longer, stiffer hairs - also called vibrissae - are embedded more deeply in the cat’s body than the shorter top-fur coat. The vibrissae are connected securely to the sensitive muscular and nervous systems, sending information about the surroundings directly to the cat’s sensory nerves, giving it a heightened sense of feeling and helping the cat to detect and respond to changes in its surroundings - sort of like kitty radar. Cool, right?

Never Cut A Cat's Whiskers

Some may assume that it is normal grooming practice to cut a cat's whiskers. This could not be further from the truth. Grooming, trimming or cutting off a cat’s whiskers is a colossal blunder. Cats become disoriented and frightened. Whiskers need to remain intact in the same way you and I need our touch senses to get around. Cats use their whiskers in the same way that we use the touch receptors in our finger tips, to alert us to potentially painful situations.

Cat whiskers shed and grow back naturally, and should be left alone.

Getting Around

Cats have a sensory organ at the end of their whiskers called a proprioceptor which sends tactile signals to the brain and nervous system. The proprioceptor is related to the position of the body and limbs, an important part of knowing where every part of the body is for decisions made for the next immediate movement. This organ makes the cat’s whiskers sensitive to even the smallest change in the environment. A cat’s whiskers not only help gauge whether it can fit into a tight space, they can respond to vibrations in the air, such as when the cat is chasing prey.

Whiskers also serve as a way for cats to measure visually distance, which is why they can leap so quickly and gracefully onto a narrow ledge or out of harm’s way.

Mood Detectors

Whiskers serve as a barometer for cat’s moods. When a cat is content, its whiskers will be mostly immobile. But the whiskers suddenly bunch up and lay flat against the face - that may be a sign of fear.

When playing, whiskers are pointing forward. This is its “game face,” a sign that your cat is in hunting mode.

Whiskers also make it easy to tell when they are startled, because every hair on its body will stand on end, including the whiskers, pointing forward.

Whiskers are a vital part of mobility and sense of security. Without whiskers, cats could not achieve the great acrobatic feats that are so awe-inspiring, or protect themselves from dangerous situations.

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