The average cat has twenty-four movable whiskers, usually twelve on each side of its nose. Twice as thick as ordinary hairs, the roots of whiskers are set very deeply into the cat’s tissue. Their ultra-sensitive nerve endings enhance perception of air movement, air pressure and anything the cat comes contact with.
The scientific name for whiskers is vibrissae. As air circulatesaround objects, so do whiskers vibrate. These vibrations translate into messages (from Garcia the cat and others) and they are indicators of the size, presence and shape of obstacles before them, which occurs before such objects are either visible or palpable. They also aid in the cat’s primary purpose in its feral state, to hunt. It has been said that a cat whose whiskers have been damaged may bite the wrong part of a mouse although for the sake of polite company, it cannot be said which part.
Whiskers also indicate a cat’s moods. When a cat is angry or feels defensive, the whiskers are pulled back. Otherwise, they will be more relaxed and pushed forward. Their primary purpose, however, is to help the cat judge whether or not he or she can fit through an opening.
As helpful as whiskers are, they can also be a bother to a cat, especially when the animal is trying to eat out of a bowl. If the ends of the whiskers touch the side of the bowl, they transfer irritating sensations to the brain, making it difficult for the animal to finish eating. They are extremely sensitive because they are closely connected with the nervous system. One rule of thumb (or whisker) to always remember is to NEVER trim your cat’s whiskers and NEVER wash them.
Do YOU have a helpful hint or know something else about a cat’s whiskers? Please share.
“Cats and Their Territory: Do Not Disturb!”
“A Cat’s Whiskers: What Do They Want?”