Whiskers most commonly grow laterally from a cat’s nose (muzzle), as well as above their eyes, along their jaw and sometimes on the backs of their legs. Don’t be mistaken into thinking that whiskers are like human hair because whiskers are very sensitive touch receptors. They are embedded quite deeply in your puss-cat’s body and connected to their muscular and nervous systems. They’re like a highly tuned and sensitive cat antennae which are constantly scanning for changes to their immediate environment. So let’s just put it out there right now…don’t cut puss-cat’s whiskers! Yes, whiskers fall out and grow back like human hair but if you trim their whiskers they will become disoriented and scared because they can’t make judgements about their environment. Stick to cutting your Barbie’s hair instead.
The functions of cat whiskers
- Position, position, position. At the end of a whisker is a sensory organ called a proprioceptor which sends signals to the brain and nervous system about the position of a cat’s body and limbs. The human body has these too for example in our limbs so our brains know the angle of our joints and how our limbs move in space. They also help cat’s measure distance which is on no better display that when they jump considerable heights.
- Prey catcher. Have you ever noticed when you play with your cat that they appear to have trouble catching anything which is right in front of them? A cat’s close vision is not that great, so what they do to compensate is curl their whiskers forward to identify the place where the object/prey is. This enables them to know when and where to attack so they can catch that night’s dinner.
- Mood identifier. Your cat can’t disguise their mood, it’s written all over their face thanks in part to the position of their whiskers. A content and resting cat will have immobile whiskers. A cat who has their whiskers flattened and bunched is most probably scared and an excited cat will push their whiskers forward. When this is accompanied with a weird sideways cross between running and jumping, and a big Basil Brush tail, Mr Pet Parent and I call this Psycho Cat which seems to happen for no reason whatsoever.
Whiskers can change colour too. Soph’s whiskers are predominantly white but occasionally she’ll grow an odd black one, which apparently is due to ageing. The myth about cat’s whiskers being as long as a cat is wide seems to be on the money too. I don’t know if that holds with cats who’ve got fat. Could I suggest that we don’t try it to find out either?! This super sensitivity of whiskers is likely to be the biggest explanation of why cat’s like to flick food out of their bowls and eat it off the ground. The pressure on their whiskers from the sides of the bowl is probably very uncomfortable for your cat, so flicking the biscuits out onto your kitchen tiles is really quite an ingenious solution. If that happens in your cat household maybe look at getting one of our Slate Plates or Feed Boards. Very zhoosh and contains those biscuit crumbs so they don’t get embedded in your human bare feet!