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32–35 Weeks: What to Expect From Your Kitten

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A Guide to Your Kitten's Senses: Touch

How can your kitten exercise such grace in manipulating her toys and walking through narrow and dark areas, but at the same time sit so close to a heater for so long that her fur starts smoking? It all has to do with your kitten's sense of touch.

  • A cat has touch receptors all over her body, but the most sensitive ones are on her whiskers, her tongue, and the pads of her paws.

  • Your kitten's whiskers, referred to as vibrissae in scientific parlance, are more than just an extra touch of elegance—they're a vital part of the network of nerves that forms her sense of touch. She has 12 whiskers on each of her upper lips, in four rows of three. She also has a few whiskers at the sides of her faces, on the top of her head above her eyes, and on her lower front legs just above her feet.

  • Whiskers are hairs that grow out of a deeper layer of skin than normal fur does. The cells that grow whiskers also have nerve endings attached to them, which makes them exquisitely sensitive detectors of vibration, breezes, and motion. A cat depends on information from her whiskers to avoid obstacles when walking in dark areas and to sense her prey when she's got it trapped under her paws.

  • The pads of a cat's paws are extremely sensitive to touch and vibration. This is probably why a lot of cats don't like having their paws handled.

  • A cat has areas all over her body that are covered with touch-sensitive spots. You can see this if water falls gently on your cat's fur and her skin ripples in response.

  • Despite this amazing sensitivity to touch, your cat cannot sense hot or cold extremes over most of her body. This is why your kitten may not realize that a stove or radiator is hot, and why she could sit close to a space heater until her fur begins to smolder. A person will move away from heat once it reaches about 110 degrees F, but cats don't find heat sources bothersome until they reach a temperature of about 126 degrees F. The only parts of her body that are sensitive to cold and heat are the nose and lips. When she was a newborn, she used that heat sensitivity to find her mother and her life-sustaining milk.

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