Many different mammals have whiskers—from mice and rabbits to foxes and seals—but the animals perhaps most well-known for having whiskers are cats. If you have a feline friend living in your house, you might wonder what purpose these modified hairs serve. Learn more about whiskers here, including just how sensitive they are.
Whiskers are Specialized Touch Organs
Unlike ordinary hair, whiskers can sense objects around them. The roots of your cat’s whiskers extend much deeper into the skin than his fur, and a generous supply of blood and nerves feed them. This is how whiskers are sensitive enough to detect a slight change in the breeze. Cats use this to their advantage when hunting, pushing their whiskers forward to detect the movements of their prey more accurately.
Whiskers also help cats get around safely. This is why whiskers come in different lengths for different animals. In general, the whiskers on a feline’s nose are about as long from end to end as the animal is wide. This allows him to approach a narrow gap and determine whether he’ll fit based on where the sides of the opening brush up against his whiskers.
Your Cat Has Whiskers in Various Places
The most visible whiskers on a cat’s body are located on the muzzle. Most cats have eight to 12 whiskers on each side of their nose for a total of 16 to 24 specialized sensory hairs used for hunting and navigation.
But did you know your feline friend also has whiskers above his eyes, on his chin, and on the backs of his forelegs? These whiskers are shorter and less noticeable than the ones on his nose, but they’re equally important for hunting. After all, cats are farsighted, meaning they don’t see well up close, and the sensitive whiskers across their body help them position their prey so they can deliver a fatal bite.
Never Pull on or Trim Your Cat’s Whiskers
Because whiskers are so sensitive, pulling on them can cause your cat pain. He might also become annoyed if the tips of his whiskers touch the side of his food or water dish. If your kitty acts like a picky eater, try changing to a shallower food dish before switching to a new cat food.
Also, you should never trim your kitty’s whiskers. This may cause disorientation, dizziness, and confusion because the animal is no longer receiving the navigation signals he’s used to.
Having said this, it’s completely normal for your cat to occasionally shed a whisker or two. Old whiskers fall out, and new ones grow in their place. However, a sudden increase in lost whiskers could indicate an infection or other health problems, which are usually accompanied by other symptoms such as lethargy and weight loss.
Keep Your Cat Healthy at Germantown Vet Clinic
If you have any doubts about your cat’s health or the condition of his whiskers, don’t hesitate to call Germantown Vet. We’ll offer our best advice based on the symptoms you describe, which may include bringing your furry friend to our Montgomery County animal clinic for an exam.
For answers to all your pet health questions, or to schedule a vet visit for your cat, please contact Germantown Vet today at 240-252-7467.