cat whiskersThey’re long, wispy, and have a knack for tickling your face in the middle of the night. They seem to be the first thing that draws us in when admiring the beauty of cats, and they certainly define the Felidae family.

Cat whiskers are the standout feature of a cat’s face. Even though other mammals have whiskers, they seem to be most distinct on our cat friends. But what exactly are they used for?

The Pet Experts want to discuss just how expressive (and important) whiskers are to your purry pal.

The Anatomy of the Whisker

Whiskers, also known as vibrissae, are not just an ornamental aspect of your cat’s face; they’re also a means of perceiving the world and communicating. Unlike a strand of hair, the whisker is a sensory device meant to attune your cat to the environment.

Whiskers exist on almost every mammal with the exception of humans and primates. While they’re a hair follicle, they’re filled with nerve cells that send information to the brain.  Varying in length and width, these follicles are found on either side of your cat’s nose, on the backs of the legs, above the eyes, and under the chin.

Cat Whiskers: More Than Meets the Eye

Now that you know just how sensitive whiskers are, you may also be wondering what purpose they serve. You may be surprised to know that beyond the cute factor, whiskers are purposeful in many ways.

  1. They help determine space. Like most cat owners, you may be amused by your pet’s penchant for tiny spaces. Evidence shows that the larger the cat, the longer the whiskers – and for good reason. Cat whiskers help pets navigate small, narrow passages, allowing them to discern if a space is large enough for their body.
  2. Whiskers catch vibrations. Cats use their whiskers to help detect slight vibrations in the air, which help them zero in on the movements of prey.
  3. Whiskers express emotion. Although humans look to the eyes for signs of emotion, cat whiskers play a big role in conveying feeling. Relaxed whiskers denote a calm kitty, while whiskers that are positioned forward and erect often mean something curious is happening. Whiskers that are held close to the face signal that your cat is nervous or upset. Like the tail, whiskers convey a wide array of emotion.

Kind Whisker Care

Because cat whiskers play such a significant role in your cat’s life, they should never be cut or trimmed. This is not only disconcerting for kitties but also uncomfortable. You may even notice that your cat dislikes getting his or her whiskers wet. This is a factor in their sensitivity, so shallow water bowls are preferred to keep those vibrissae dry.

While we may pluck an errant eyebrow hair or two, cat whiskers are not just aesthetic – they’re working whiskers that are quite sensitive! Resist the urge to groom them or contact our professional groomers to help keep kitty clean and smelling great while protecting delicate whiskers.

At The Pet Experts at Naperville Animal Hospital, we value these finely tuned instruments. If you have any questions relating to whiskers or kitty care, please do not hesitate to call us!