Some people think those whiskers are similar to a human’s hair, and most think they are useless or just a mere décor God put on a cat’s face.
They are not.
Whiskers are very important to a cat’s survival and amazing athletic ability. So please leave those whiskers alone. Do not cut them at all.
Yahaira Cespedes, in “Why Do Cats Have Whiskers?,” noted: “The whiskers, unlike human hair, are actually touch receptors. These longer, stiffer hairs -- also called vibrissae -- are embedded more deeply in the cat’s body than the shorter top-fur coat. The vibrissae are connected securely to the sensitive muscular and nervous systems, sending information about the surroundings directly to the cat’s sensory nerves, giving it a heightened sense of feeling and helping the cat to detect and respond to changes in its surroundings - sort of like kitty radar.”
She added: “A cat’s tactile hairs may be the most prominent on either side of its nose and upper facial lip. You may be also able to see shorter whiskers above each of the eyes (kind of like eyebrows). But did you know that cats also have whiskers on their jaw line and on the back of their front legs?”
Cespedes also noted that most people think whiskers should be trimmed. No! Never trim, groom or cut a cat’s whiskers.
“Some cats, like the Devon Rex, even have curly facial whiskers, so you might think that it wouldn’t be harmful to straighten them out with a little trim,” Cespedes said. But it is.
Here are the reasons those whiskers are important to cats:
1. The whiskers help the cats gauge and make sense of their environment, Cespedes said.
“Without their tactile hairs, cats become very disoriented and frightened,” she stressed.
While whiskers grow back, cats need their whiskers the same way humans need their touch senses to get around.
“That is, cats use their whiskers in the same way that we use the touch receptors in our finger tips to feel our way around in the darkness, and to alert us to potentially painful situations,” Cespedes said.
“Whiskers shed and grow back naturally, and should be left alone,” she added.
2. At the end of their whiskers is a sensory organ called a proprioceptor, which sends tactile signals to the brain and nervous system.
“The proprioceptor is related to the position of the body and limbs, an important part of knowing where every part of the body is so that decisions can be made for the next immediate movement. This organ makes the cat’s whiskers very sensitive to even the smallest change in the cat’s environment,” Cespedes said.
3. Whiskers not only help cats to determine if it can fit in a tight space without seeing it, but also to respond to vibrations in the air, such as when he or she is chasing a prey.
4. Whiskers help cats visually measure distance, which is why they can leap quickly and gracefully onto a narrow ledge or out of harm’s way.
5. An owner can also determine a cat’s mood by its whiskers.
“When a cat is resting or content, its whiskers will be mostly immobile. But if you see the whiskers suddenly bunch up and lay flat against the cat’s face -- that may be a sign that the cat is scared,”Cespedes said.
“Perhaps when playing ‘chase the toy’ with a cat, you’ll notice its whiskers are pointing forward. This is probably its “game face,” a sign that your cat is in hunting mode,” she added.
6. The whiskers will also tell you when a cat is startled or excited, because every hair on its body will be standing on end, including the whiskers, which will point almost completely forward.
Whiskers are thus a vital part of a cat’s mobility and sense of security. They guide cats, help them track prey, and act as radar systems.
“Without whiskers, cats would not be able to achieve the great acrobatic feats that are so awe-inspiring, or protect themselves from dangerous situations,” Cespedes said. DC
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