Why Do Cats Have Whiskers?

Ever wondered why do cats have whiskers or what they are for and how many do they have? Read everything in detail here.

Cat whiskers are a vital structure of these felines. These whiskers are also known as vibrissae and are sensory and well-honed. Whiskers help in the nocturnal vision of these creatures.

With the aid of these whiskers, these mystical creatures can look out for predators and stay far away from them. Thus, this sensitive part of the cats acts as a protective mechanism.

How Many Whiskers Do Cats Have?

Cats have about 24 whiskers. Out of which, 12 whiskers are present on each side of the nose. These whiskers are tactile & sensitive hairs, and some are even visible above their eyes, on the muzzle as well as in other parts of the bodies like jaws, and ears. A few are present on the back portion of their front legs, jaw line, the upper part of the facial lip and on its nose on either side.

Cat whiskers look somewhat like body hair but are certainly different from the rest of the body hairs. Some of the features that differentiate the body hair of the cats from the cat whiskers are enumerated below.

Differences Between Body Hair And The Whiskers In Cats

  • The whiskers are two or three times stiffer and thicker than the body hair of the cats.
  • The body hair of the cats is more superficial than the whiskers which are placed very deep into the face of a cat. These whiskers are rooted in the area which is rich in blood vessels and nerves.

Similarities Between Body Hair And The Whiskers In Cats

  • Just like human hair, the whiskers of a cat change color with age. These hairs turn grey with age.
  • The whiskers of cats even shed or fall off like the other hair present in different areas in the body of cats. Just like the other body hair, if a cats lose whiskers accompanied by the other symptoms such as watery eyes and bad breadth, it could indicate vitamin deficiency, and in such a case she should be taken to a veteran for proper treatment.

Also Read: How Many Teeth Do Cats Have?

Functions & Uses Of Whiskers

The whiskers in cats serve various functions. They act as a radar, guide, and tracker and as a detector of the sense of pressure. Thus it is quite logical that these whiskers are not mere facial hair to be trimmed and cut from time to time. These stiff and special whiskers have tactile receptors on their tips.

1. Helps In Movement At Night

These whiskers are very sensitive and delicate tactile hairs that can be detected in the various parts of the body of a cat, such as above the eyes, on the muzzle, forelegs, ears and jaws. There is a follicle present at the root of these whiskers which are loaded with nerves. These felines can detect the exact size, texture and location of an object by brushing their sensitive whiskers against it.

Moreover, these delicate whiskers can sense the change in the air direction, and this helps them to detect any obstruction in their path of movement. For instance, a cat can identify furniture in a room and hence even at night maneuvers effectively without bumping into any furniture. Air current in a room changes depending on the furniture present there and a cat is able to detect the change in air or breeze current. This defines its movement in the dark. Thus this explains clearly the question, “Why do cats have whiskers?”

2. Aids In Expression

The sensitive cat whiskers significantly help to express mood. The whiskers of a defensive or angry cat will be in a backwards direction; whereas those of a curious, happy or content cat will be in a forward direction and in a very relaxed state. When the cat is hunting, the whiskers point in the forward direction. When a cat is in a nervous or sad mood, she will keep her whiskers in a backwards direction. Thus her various moods are expressed very efficiently by the position of the whiskers.

3. Helps In Judging

The tips of the whiskers are sensitive to pressure as well, and this enables a cat to judge whether an opening is large enough for it to get through it. One interesting fact about these felines is that due to the lack of their collar bone they can fit into and maneuver themselves in a very small space. Thus they very easily twist and turn and make their way through narrow and tiny openings. The whiskers situated on the side of the nose helps in the detection of pressure and hence in the judgment of size. This helps us to understand the question, “Why do cats have whiskers?”

4. Acts As A Protective Organ

The sensitive whiskers in cats help them to detect the changes in the breeze or the air currents and thereby help these creatures to detect any imminent danger that might be approaching.

5. Aids In Acrobatic Feats

Due to the tactile receptors present on the tips of the cat whiskers, these felines can detect the presence of objects nearby, and this contributes significantly to its security. As a result, they perform the impressive acrobatic feats and are able to land on their feet, no matter from what altitude they fall. They have this inherent capacity of surviving drops.

6. Helps In Climbing

Apart from the various functions performed by the whiskers of cats, such as acting as radar, helping in judging size and space, expressing mood, these whiskers play a vital role in climbing up trees. Those whiskers present at the back portion of a cat helps in the act of climbing.

Thus, now it is very simple to understand the question, why do cats have whiskers. As a conclusion, at no cost, the whiskers of a cat should be cut. Cutting of the whiskers of a cat would make her scared and disoriented. Without her whiskers, she would not be able to sense any danger and navigate her way through. She would be unable to judge distance, space and size and fail to perform the amazing acrobatic feats. Without the whiskers, a cat would become helpless and would not be able to protect herself from danger.

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