All About Whiskers

A cat's whiskers are its most important sensory organ. The next two most important would be Jacobson's organ, which is for taste and smell, and paw pads for touch. Whiskers are the feline equivalent of nose hair in humans.

Whiskers are a kind of hair, but they are much longer and stiffer than the rest of a cat's hair. They are extremely sensitive, and help a cat to understand its environment.

So what are whiskers for and in what way are they the most important sensory organ for cats? And what sets them apart from other hair?

Characteristics of whiskers

So whiskers are technically hair. They're made up of keratin and nerve fibres, which allows the cat to pick up on movements with great precision.

They are found on the muzzle, above the eyes and on the front paws. Cats mainly use them to get their bearings, by picking up on the direction of gusts of air and odours.

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Uses

In this way, whiskers have a sensory function, because they help a cat to understand its environment and the objects that it comes into contact with.

Thanks to their whiskers, cats can trace the source of a smell or control the speed and direction of a jump. They are also useful at night, because they help cats to pick up on vibrations in the air.

If you look at your cat's whiskers, you will see that they extend beyond the width of their body. This tells them if they will be able to fit through a gap or not.

Whiskers are also very useful to older or unwell cats who can't see well, because they help them to track prey and find their way around a space.

Finally, like a cat's tail, whiskers are a way of communicating with other cats and expressing their mood. If the whiskers are relaxed, it means your cat is happy and at ease. Pulled back whiskers indicate an angry cat, or one that is playing or hunting.

Can you cut them?

Given all the useful functions whiskers provide, cutting them is strongly discouraged. If they do grow back, it will take some time, and this could disorientate your cat.

Your cat may become confused, and could be slow and hesitant with his actions.

Whiskers can be lost when cats chew them themselves. In this case, not much can be done other than waiting for them to grow back again.