What are cat whiskers for

What are cat whiskers for?

Far from being an aesthetic complement, feline whiskers perform several functions, essential for the development of the animal in its environment, but specifically, what are the whiskers of a cat for?

Luckily, in this post we are going to reveal all the keys to vibrissae , which is how they are called in veterinary slang. If you think that whiskers are only located on the face or muzzle of the cat, you are wrong. We started!

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Curiosities about feline vibrisas

As a general rule, cats carry 16 to 24 whiskers, half on each side, or what is the same 8 or 12 on each side, and are housed in hair follicles 5 times thicker and longer than the follicles of the rest of the body.

These follicles are attached to the muscles that control movement and at their base consist of nerve sensors that are extremely sensitive to changes in air speed, pressure or direction.

In addition to the mouth, the cat has vibrissae on the eyes, on the cheeks, on the jaw and on the lower back of the front legs.

Let’s see it in more detail: 

  • The vibrissae on the upper lip are called mistacial and are the longest of all. They are distributed in 4 rows, the upper 2 being independent in terms of their movement.
  • The superciliar ones are located on the eyes forming a tuft on each eye.
  • Genial vibrissae, on the other hand, correspond to the whiskers located under the ears arranged in 2 tufts on each side.
  • Those corresponding to the jaw make up the least noticeable tuft of all the cat’s whiskers.
  • The carpals or ulnares are the vibrissae of the front legs. Their name refers to their proximity to the carpus and they share the structure of the whiskers located on the face.

All of them are specialized and strategically placed hairs that, as we will see below, perform various missions. We could equate them to an extension of the feline’s sense of touch.

In fact, its length corresponds to the width of the cat’s body , with the exception of some obese cats, helping it to confirm the correctness or not of, for example, walking through narrow spaces.

What are the whiskers of a pussycat for?

The vibrissae act as a kind of radar or sensor that orients the cat. They allow you to calculate distances, avoid hazards and move around without compromising your physical integrity.

Given the sensitivity of these specialized hairs to the slightest air currents , to their changes in direction or to vibrations, the cat can verify if, for example, an animal in its path is alive or dead by passing its whiskers through it.

It is known to all that cats have excellent eyesight. However, this vision is biologically programmed for hunting and, consequently, it dominates the medium and long distances , not the short ones or those located at 30 centimeters or less.

The vibrissae compensate for this limitation and allow the feline to hunt with full success even when there is no lighting at night.

In particular, carpals provide valuable information during movement , facilitate the task of climbing the tree and increase the touch with the prey during the hunt.

If you notice, the cat moves its whiskers when it moves forward or sideways to scan its surroundings from a wider angle. In this way, it collects the information necessary to move without suffering accidents and achieve its objectives .

In addition to guiding him and integrating him into the environment in which he lives, whiskers serve to preserve the balance of your pet. This is the reason why you should not, under any circumstances, cut their whiskers.

One last facet about mustaches that deserves your attention refers to the information they provide you with about your friend’s state of mind. If his whiskers are tucked back , it indicates that he is alert or scared .

If, on the contrary, they are extended and in the opposite direction to his face, it means that your cat is relaxed and happy. Given its enormous value, the cat extends its whiskers back when sleeping, smelling or fighting with an opponent to protect them.

Tips on vibrissae

Have you noticed that when your cat eats, it pulls its whiskers back? It does so in order not to get them wet or dirty and thus not hinder the quality of information reception.

Therefore, try to provide him with wide and shallow feeders and drinkers to avoid rubbing them with the container. It is a gesture that felines dislike and that he will know how to thank you for .

Given their commented sensitivity, you should not caress them or comb them. You won’t like to check their reaction. From time to time they will fall off and will be replaced by new vibrisas.

Now that you know more about what a cat’s whiskers are for and how you should take care of them, according to their importance, you should not neglect the guidelines that we have provided. The well-being of your best friend depends on it.


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