Whiskers are the long and thick hairs on a cat’s face. While we can obviously see them because they are located on the front, most people don’t really know why cats have whiskers. Well, the cat’s whiskers are not just there to make our furry friends cute and tickly but serve a unique and important purpose. Although they look like hair, they are nothing like it and are actually excellent sensory tools.
Also referred to as tactile hairs, the whiskers don’t only grow between the top corners of the mouth and the nose’s outer edges. There are shorter ones at the top of the eyebrows, at the back of the front legs and some on the chin. Since some people may not understand the whiskers’ functionality and actually might find them to be a nuisance, we will discuss why cats have them and their importance.
The Reason Why cats have whiskers
Even though the cat’s whiskers have a significant function, which is to act as a sensory tool, they also serve other purposes. In fact, the official term that’s used to refer to them is vibrissae. It’s derived from the Latin word vibrio, meaning to vibrate. The hair follicle on the whiskers has lots of nerves, and the tip has a sensory organ on it that’s called proprioceptor. All these combined make them an excellent sensory tool.
Furthermore, the whiskers are quite excellent at detecting objects and any movements in the environment. When an object brushes against any of the whiskers, the extra sensitive hair spontaneously vibrates, and the nerves in the hair follicles are stimulated. We can easily say cats use them to fully understand their surroundings and navigate from one place to the next. The cat will automatically detect the changes in the environment, including the size, shape, and speed.
The whiskers are deeply embedded in the body, much more than even the normal fur. This means they are connected to the nervous system to enable them to send messages to the brain concerning the surroundings of the cat.
We surely believe that there is more to the whiskers than what meets the eye. They might enhance your kitty’s facial features and even make her look like she’s smiling, but there is a lot more that you need to know about them. We have taken it upon ourselves to provide all the details on why the whiskers are essential and why cats actually have them. Here are more reasons explaining why cats have whiskers;
Without the whiskers, your kitty would probably be stumbling over things and falling all the time. Through the whiskers, cats can feel their way around with ease. Since the tactile hairs are super sensitive, they help detect even the slightest directional change in the airflow. Remember that cats don’t have the best vision, especially at night. This is where the whiskers come into play.
The air currents will change depending on where the different objects are located. In that case, as the cat walks around, she will know the right direction to turn depending on the changes in the air currents around the particular object.
Measuring an opening
Who would have thought cats use their whiskers as tape measures? Well, now you know that one of the primary uses of cat’s whiskers is to measure and judge whether they’ll fit through an opening or not. The whiskers are roughly the same size as the width of the cat’s body. This is certainly the reason why whenever a cat wants to go through an opening, he puts the head in first before the rest of the body. This is an indication that the cat is determining whether he will fit into the opening or there will be a problem with passing through the narrow space. Now we also know that cats are smart, and they use their brain and whiskers, of course!
The whiskers will indicate the mood of your furry friend. This is because a part of your cat’s brain is dedicated to communicating and processing data from the whiskers, which are the touch sensors. If you see your kitty resting, relaxed and happy, the whiskers will also be more relaxed and actually pushed forward. On the other hand, when upset or she feels threatened, the whiskers will be directed toward the threat.
Balancing the body
At the ends of the whiskers, there are sensory organs referred to as proprioceptors. These work to communicate with the brain and send messages regarding what every part of the body is doing at that time. That’s why a cat will jump and land on its feet.
The tactile hairs are extremely sensitive and tend to detect even the slightest touch. When small particles or dust fall on the whiskers close to the eyes, she will spontaneously detect it and shake it off or blink to get it off. This is a means of protecting the eyes from any injuries or infection the dust particles will cause. Additionally, in case the cat encounters tall grass or thorns that may accidentally poke and injure the eyes, the whiskers automatically prompt the cat to move away. They actually save the ever-curious cat from a whole lot of trouble.
Why we should protect the whiskers
It can be a little tempting to trim the whiskers or completely do away with them. However, they hold such a crucial neurological function in the cat’s body. This means that we ought to protect the whiskers to avoid taking away your kitty’s ability to function in its surroundings safely.
Therefore, next time you are grooming your furry friend, leave the whiskers alone. Don’t try to trim or pluck them. For one thing, it will be very painful for your kitty, considering they hold a sensory organ. Secondly, you will reduce the cat’s awareness of its surroundings and actually cause confusion.
We have discussed several functions of the whiskers. At this point, you understand why cats have whiskers and why they need them. Always protect the tactile hairs on your furry friend and avoid trimming or cutting them off.