A cat’s whiskers do more than just adding to her good looks

Are you also fascinated by your cat’s whiskers? Here are some interesting facts about those interesting parts of your cat’s face. It is actually a myth that whiskers assist the cat with balance. Like all mammals, the inner ear regulates balance and tracks movement. Think about it – many mammals in fact have no whiskers at all, and their balance is fine. When a cat happens to be off-balance, the inner ear will signal to the body to right itself. This process will then start with the head, then the front feet and after that the body. Kittens can already right their bodies this way from birth, but the cat’s ability to right her body in mid-air before landing only develops after around four to six weeks.

So what do the whiskers do?

Whiskers, technically called vibrissae, have a sensory function in helping the cat find her way. A cat’s whiskers are patterned – she generally has 12 whiskers on each side of the nose, placed in four horizontal rows. They are used to determine distances and the sizes of objects – very useful in the dark! A cat will also use her whiskers to test how big an opening is, to make sure she will fit into tight spaces and not get stuck. This explains the natural grace of the cat – her whiskers help her to avoid clumsy accidents. Cats also have vibrissae on their paws, eyes, chins and legs.

Read my whiskers!

The position of your cat’s whiskers can give you a good indication of the mood she’s in. A relaxed cat will probably have relaxed whiskers too, but you will easily see when she’s not feeling all that tranquil! If her whiskers are pulled back flat against her face, your cat is probably angry or frightened. A curious and playful cat’s whiskers will face forward.

The anatomy of the whisker

The whiskers may appear to be part of the cat’s coat, but in actual fact they are not hairs at all, and they are nothing like human hair. They are long and much stiffer, and embedded deeper in the cat’s body than her coat. At the root of the whisker you will find a follicle loaded with nerves, connecting them to the muscular and nervous system of the cat. Information about the cat’s surroundings gets sent directly to her nervous system, helping her feel and navigate her way around.

Whiskers: to trim or not to trim?

Imagine having to feel your way around in the dark – with no fingers. This is more or less what cutting a cat’s whiskers will feel like to her. Remember, whiskers are not hair, they are sensory organs. Without her whiskers a cat will become disoriented and afraid, because she won’t have them to alert her to potentially dangerous situations. Whiskers shed and grow back naturally, so you can simply leave them be.

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