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Why Do Cats Have Whiskers? 16 Interesting Whisker Facts

The charming and beguiling cat and her irresistible whiskers. Part of the cat’s charm comes in the form of those whiskers, but have you ever wondered why cats even have them? What is the overall purpose of a cat’s whiskers? You might be surprised to learn that the whiskers are not a part of your cat just so she can look adorable, but they actually serve an important purpose. In actual fact, whiskers perform a number of essential functions. So, please read on, and we’ll divulge some interesting facts about your cat’s whiskers.

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1. Whiskers are essentially thicker hair.

Hair is made from natural fibrous proteins called keratin, which is also what whiskers are made from. However, whiskers are as much as two to three times thicker and stronger than the hair found in your cat’s coat. The roots of the whiskers are also at least three times deeper than regular hair.

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2. Whiskers are also called

Vibrissae come from the Latin word vibrãre, which translates into “to vibrate.” The term vibrissae are used to describe the whiskers not just on cats but for any mammals that have whiskers. Interestingly, this term is also used to identify the longer feathers found at the sides of the mouth of insect-eating birds.

close up of cat whiskers
Image Credit: Annette Meyer, Pixabay
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3. There are whiskers found on different parts of the body.

The mystacial vibrissae (a fancy way of saying facial whiskers) are the most noticeable, but a cat also has whiskers on the chin, above the eyes, near the ears, and on the front legs. The whiskers on their legs help cats to track their prey and allows them to judge the distance and size of the prey.

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4. Most cats have 12 whiskers.

Some cats may have less, but the majority of cats have 12 whiskers that lie in four rows and are found above their upper lips. All of these whiskers are highly sensitive as the hair follicles from where they grow are full of nerve endings and blood vessels.

a cat full of facial whiskers
Image Credit: Annette Meyer, Pixabay
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5. Whiskers help cats to “see”.

Indoor cats tend to be nearsighted and outdoor cats are farsighted. However, because their eyes are so large, cats are unable to focus on anything that is less than 1 foot in front of them. This is where their sensitive whiskers come in handy, as the whiskers will tell the cat what is in front of them by touch. The whiskers will give the cat information on the exact location, the texture, and the size of the item, even if it’s in the dark.

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6. Whiskers help cats to “sense”.

The slightest movement in the air will be sensed by your cat’s whiskers, which helps the cat perceive any danger. They also allow the cat to determine if they can fit into any tight places. The facial whiskers are about as long as the cat’s body is wide and help the cat to figure out the dimensions of spaces.

cat staring ahead
Image Credit: Craig McLachlan, Unsplash
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7. Whiskers are very sensitive.

As already mentioned, whiskers are embedded in the hair follicles very deeply and are surrounded by blood vessels and nerves, making them very sensitive to touch. While this is very handy for your cat, it can also cause her extreme pain if the whiskers are pulled or if you push them in the opposite direction from which they grow. So, don’t mess with a cat’s whiskers.

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8. A cat’s mood can be determined by the whiskers.

Your cat’s tail, body language, and ears are the typical methods you use to understand what kind of mood she’s in. But did you know the whiskers also tell a story?

If your cat’s whiskers are pulled back tightly against her face, she feels threatened or is angry or scared. If they are relaxed and not really moving, then your cat is feeling content and comfortable. If the whiskers are suddenly all bunched up and pointing forward, then your cat is alert and excited and ready to pounce.

cat scratching its neck
Image Credit: Steve Lum, Flickr
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9. There is something called “whisker stress”.

If you notice your cat frequently flipping food out of her bowl and eating it off the floor, it could be that she’s a bit quirky. But in some cases, she might be suffering from whisker stress. If her food bowl is narrow, then her whiskers are being pressed against the sides of the bowl while eating, which might be uncomfortable for her. You could consider putting her food on a small plate or in a wider bowl.

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10. Whiskers help cats land on their feet.

The whiskers’ ends have sensory organs called proprioceptors, which notify the brain of what each part of the cat’s body is doing and where they are. These tiny “radars” will not only alert the cat about the slightest changes in her environment, but they give her the ability to jump long distances, and she’ll always land on her feet.

cat eating cat food
Image Credit: Surprise, Pixabay
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11. Never cut whiskers.

Whiskers absolutely need protection as they are, quite clearly, very important for your cat. If you’re grooming your cat, never attempt to pluck or cut the whiskers. Not only is plucking extremely painful, but cutting them will leave your cat confused and disoriented and removes her ability to be aware of herself and her surroundings.

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12. Most whiskers are white.

Regardless of what color of cat you have, you might notice that she has white whiskers. It is believed that before the whisker emerges from the skin, they are probably a different color but will lose the color before it actually appears on the top layer of skin. Essentially, the whisker does not retain or even access melanin, which is why they are usually white.

cat with long whiskers looking up
Image Credit: NON, Unsplash
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13. Whiskers do shed.

If you notice one of your cat’s whiskers on the couch, it’s nothing to be concerned about as whiskers do naturally shed from time to time. They do grow back.

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14. Whiskers change color as cats age.

Similar to humans, some cats may start to sprout some extra white hair as they age, but their white whiskers might do the opposite and begin to darken to black.

shedded whisker
Image Credit: Caren O, Flickr
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15. Some whiskers are very short.

Certain breeds of cats develop short whiskers, such as the Devon and Cornish Rex. The Devon Rex is prone to short whiskers that are quite fragile and tend to break off, and the Cornish Rex has short and curly whiskers. The Sphynx breed is hairless and might have short, curled whiskers or might not have whiskers at all.

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16. Some whiskers are very long.

Would you be surprised to know that there’s a Guinness World Record for a cat with the longest whiskers? It belongs to “Fullmoon’s Miss American Pie,” but she is also known as Missi, a Maine Coon whose whiskers were measured at 7.5 inches in 2005. However, a homeless cat from Somerset, England, and was aptly named Whiskers, had her whiskers measured at a whopping 12 inches in 2014!

devon rex tabby cat is laying on a soft blanket
Image Credit: Veera, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

So, there you have it!  Whiskers are an essential part of your cat’s body. Little did you know that they were more than just a cute addition to an already adorable pet. Whiskers give your cat protection and allow her to be mobile and even acrobatic. Without their whiskers, cats would be pretty ordinary indeed.

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Featured Image: Erik-Jan Leusink, Unsplash