Touchy, Feely: All About Cat Whiskers

cat whiskersDelicate, complex, mysterious… cat whiskers embody what being a feline is all about. As cat lovers, the staff at Rocklin Ranch Veterinary Hospital want to know more about these adorable adornments and the ways in which they are integral to cat behavior. Read on to learn what we found out about cat whiskers.

The Evolution of Cat Whiskers

Cat whiskers have been around ever since cats have, which by some accounts is around 9,500 years. These sensitive, specialized organs, more properly known as vibrissae, have evolved to sprout from the feline muzzle, lower limbs, and even above the eyes. Vibrissae are a very thick, long hairs that have a large amount of nerve endings. This makes them extremely sensitive to the surrounding world.

Historically, cats have relied on hunting at night to survive. HIghly developed whiskers likely helped them to be more successful at this task. This is why other nocturnal critters, such as rats and seals, also have very developed whiskers.

All in a Day’s Work

Most house cats live a pretty tame lifestyle compared to their ancestors of yore. This doesn’t make their whiskers any less important, though. Even our indoor house cats still depend on their whiskers for several functions, including:

  • Assessing the size, shape, and texture of an object, even in dim lighting
  • Determining whether he or she can squeeze into a tight spot
  • Visually assessing distance, allowing for accurate and impressive jumps
  • Detecting changes in air currents, which can alert kitty to danger or nearby prey
  • Deciding the position of prey to allow for accurate bites
  • Triggering a blink reflex if too close to things like plant material
  • Communicating mood

Cat whiskers are also great for tickling our faces in the middle of the night, of course!

Never cut your feline friend’s whiskers, as they are what allows your cat to navigate the world around him or her.  You wouldn’t dream of cutting off your fingertips, and your cat’s whiskers function much in the same way. Cats whose whiskers are damaged are often anxious, disoriented, and experience stress.

Cats may be mysterious critters, but it’s not a secret why their whiskers are so important. Vibrissae are one of the many things that allow the feline species to be so amazing. Who knew that something as simple as cat whiskers could be so impressive?