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What about those whiskers?

What about those whiskers?

Posted by Patricia on 19th Mar 2023

Those adorable little hairs protruding from your cat's face aren't there to make you smile - although they do, don't they? Actually, a cat's spidery powers come from his "vibrissae," also known as his whiskers.

According to VCA Hospitals, cited below, whiskers "erupt" like normal hair, but are more coarse and thicker than regular follicles. VCA says there is a precise pattern for cat whiskers. They are "strategically located above the eyes, on the chin, near the ears, and above the upper lip. The exact pattern and location of whiskers vary with breed, but most cats have 12 whiskers that are arranged in four rows on each cheek."

Like a ship's navigational system, the tips of cat whiskers have receptors that communicate with his brain and nervous system. These hairs are filled with blood vessels and nerves and will react to the gentlest vibrations in the air. This sensitivity keeps your kitty balanced as he jumps, leaps, and performs other acrobatic maneuvers during his daily adventures and enables him to still land on his feet.

A cat's whiskers also communicate his feelings. According to IHeartCats, cited below, if your cat is happy, "he'll move his whiskers above his eyes, appearing wide-eyed and adorable." If he's feeling threatened by something or someone, "he'll flatten and flair those whiskers, then move them forward so he can examine the threat."

Did you know whiskers aren't just found on a cat's face? IHeartCats says "Aside from the whiskers on either side of your cat’s nose, they're also found on the back of their lower front legs." Cats are farsighted and need those extra whiskers to correctly sense activity around them.

Because they give your cat a lot of information designed to keep him safe, whiskers need great care. Never cut, trim, pull on, curl, dye, or twirl them. Doing so can cause your kitty to lose his balance or become confused with his surroundings. Although it's common for a cat to lose whiskers here and there (much like humans lose an occasional eyelash), it can take up to 3 months for them to grow back to full function.

Another way to care for your kitty's spidery sense is to buy water and food bowls with flat rather than curved edges. This will keep his whiskers from touching the sides of the bowl every time he eats or drinks. Experts at VCA explain that "repetitive contact with round dishes will send unnecessary messages to his brain and can be overwhelming."

Quote to remember: "When I follow the way of my whiskers...they guide me to you." - KT Cat Paws