Here are 20 facts about that special item of feline anatomy: cats’ whiskers. They do more and are more vital than many people imagine.
- The general view is that a cat’s whiskers are feelers which enable a cat to measure the size of a gap to allow them to get through safely. This is a simplification because whiskers do so much more.
- Whiskers are far more sophisticated than many people think because they are sensitive enough to detect air currents. As a cat likes to be out hunting when it’s dark, they use their whiskers to help them manoeuvre pass solid objects without touching them because they can feel the air currents moving around these objects. The whiskers are so sensitive that they can detect these small air currents without touching the object that causes the them.
- Whiskers help a cat to hunt and kill effectively. We know this because a cat with damaged whiskers can kill cleanly only in the light because in the dark such a cat tends to misjudge her killing bite and plunges their teeth into the wrong part of the prey animal’s body. But at night they can kill as cleanly as if they are seeing the prey animal in bright sunlight. This is because healthy whiskers can act as a guidance system. They check the prey animal’ outline and direct the cat’s bite to the nape of the neck where the canine teeth split the animal’s spine.
- To use an analogy, cat’s whiskers operate like a blind man reading Braille. You will see whiskers wrapped around a prey animal that is in a cat’s jaws about to be killed. The whiskers are feeling the shape of the animal. And they transmit information back to the cat, even the slightest movement.
- Whiskers are about twice the thickness of ordinary hairs.
- Whiskers are made of keratin, a fibrous protein, the same material that our nails and our hair are made of.
- Each whisker ranges from 0.1 to 0.2 mm in diameter.
- Whiskers are embedded in the tissue of a cat’s upper lip to a depth of three times that of other hairs.
- Whiskers are supplied with a mass of nerve endings which are able to transmit information about the object that comes into contact with the whiskers.
- On average there are 24 whiskers in total, 12 on each side of the nose arranged in four horizontal rows.
- When a cat is inquisitive, threatening or testing something the whiskers are thrust forwards to feel (see photo below).
- When a cat is defensive or deliberately avoiding to touch something the whiskers fold backwards.
- The top two rows can be moved independently of the bottom two rows.
- The strongest whiskers are in rows two and three.
- The Latin and scientific name for whiskers is vibrissae.
- Whisker hairs are not only on the muzzle of a cat. You will find them on the cheeks, over the eyes, on the chin and at the back of the front legs.
- In the English language there is a phrase which describe something which is excellent. It is “the cat’s whiskers”. It is a reflection on the rather special nature of the genuine item.
- Cats shed whiskers and they grow back. You will see the odd whisker lying on your living room floor as it has been shed like other hair on a cat’s body.
- It is said that some food and water bowls are too narrow which means that the sides of the bowl come into contact with a cat’s whiskers which in turn can disturb them and deter them from eating in that bowl. Special bowls have been created to remove this potentiality.
- The Sphynx cat normally has no whiskers but if they are present, they should be short and sparse.
Do you collect your cat’s whiskers? 💓.
Below are some pages on cat anatomy.