Who Knew Cat Whiskers Were so Critical to Feline Success?
A big part of a cat’s aesthetic is the fine, yet strong, vibrissae that jut out from either side of the nose. Fully equipped with sensory organs, or proprioceptors, cat whiskers are the ultimate in design and function. Responsible for helping a cat navigate the dark or negotiate small spaces, cat whiskers also communicate emotions.
Whiskers are present on nearly every mammal, but they aren’t all equal. Cat whiskers act as antennae, pulling in environmental signals and sending them to the brain. They might add a lot to your cat’s profile, but they are downright integral to a cat’s ability to move around and hunt effectively. In short, they are among the many superpowers your cat came equipped with.
The sensors in cat whiskers can be focused exactly where a cat wants them, and they respond to the environment without conscious control. While we can filter out background noise, cats cannot shut out various stimuli from around them. Whisker fatigue, soreness, or frustration can occur from the constant transmittal from whiskers to the brain. You may notice aversion to your touch if you happen to graze the whiskers one too many times.
Providing shallow dishes or a water fountain can eliminate this rubbing of the whiskers.
Like a Blindfold
There are typically 12 whiskers on either side of the nose, below the chin, above the eyes, and jutting backwards from the front legs. They lend themselves to a cat’s agility to land on surfaces with precision, and help them stay out of tight spaces. They will fall out naturally like other hairs that shed, but clipping or pulling them out is highly detrimental to a feline’s understanding of the surrounding environment.
Cat whiskers help with grace and agility, but because they are about as wide as the body (from tip to tip), they also help to reduce the chances of getting trapped in small spaces. When a cat peeks the head into a hole or area behind something, the whiskers will signal to the brain whether or not the rest of the body can reasonably fit as well.
Cat Whiskers and Feelings
If you watch a cat’s face closely, you’ll notice that the whiskers move based on stimuli. When happy and relaxed, the whiskers are almost slack. However, they’ll become more rigid and line up against the face when a cat is afraid. When a cat is alert or focused, the whiskers will stand out away from the face. Oddly, this is the same signal that stems from nervousness or aggression, so be mindful of what your cat is paying attention to.
The Secret World of Cats
While we don’t know everything that goes on inside the feline mind, we have enough information to try to keep cats happy, safe, and healthy. Cat whiskers are just one element of a cat’s physical appearance that actually have design features worthy of modern technology.