Health & Care
An upside down tabby cat with whiskers out.

Why Do Cats Have Whiskers?

Ever wondered, “Why do cats have whiskers?” Cat whiskers actually go way beyond a cute facial decoration. Let’s learn more about cat whiskers here.

Angie Bailey  |  Aug 22nd 2018


If you think cat whiskers are simply an adorable feline facial feature, think again. So, why do cats have whiskers? Sure, whiskers are adorable, but they’re also an incredible sensory tool — and a natural gauge for your kitty’s mood. Let’s learn more about whiskers and get some answers to “Why do cats have whiskers?” right here.

Why do cats have whiskers? A few reasons go way back

A black and white cat with his whiskers out.

Those whiskers can help cats detect danger. Photography ©dzika_mrowka | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Whiskers — also called vibrassae — are wildly sensitive follicles that are connected to a cat’s muscular and nervous system. In fact, each whisker is absolutely loaded with nerves. So, why do cats have whiskers and why do cats need whiskers, you might ask? The sensors help them gauge distance, which is how they know they can fit into tight spaces and land those precise jumps.

Another answer to, “Why do cats have whiskers?” Whiskers can also detect changes in air currents and help cats detect danger, which was extraordinarily useful for their feline ancestors who didn’t cozy up inside indoor cat condos. Did you know that those magical follicles are so sensitive that they notice even the most minute changes in the environment?

Why do cats have whiskers? Whiskers as a mood barometer

Another interesting answer to, “Why do cats have whiskers?” We can learn a bit about how our cat is feeling by looking at her whiskers. “Whiskers are an important part of a cat’s body language,” cat consultant Ingrid King advises. “When a cat is resting, the whiskers will be mostly immobile. When the cat gets excited, such as during play or hunting, whiskers will point forward. If whiskers point back and lay flat against the cat’s face, it can be a sign that the cat is scared or a precursor to aggression.” 

Why do cats have whiskers that are longer than some other cats’ whiskers?

Despite some beliefs, cats’ whiskers do not age as they grow. Size is really unique to the cat; some cat breeds do feature unusually long or short whiskers.  

Can you cut a cat’s whiskers?

Close up of cat whiskers.

Can you cut a cat’s whiskers? Photography ©percds | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Now that you know why cats have whiskers, it’s easy to understand why you should never trim them. Ingrid advises, “Cats can become disoriented and even lose their sense of balance if their whiskers are cut. Even touching your cat’s whiskers may be painful for your cat. Whiskers may fall out on their own and will grow back naturally. Cat whiskers shed and grow back naturally, and should be left alone. They are a vital part of a cat’s mobility and sense of security.” 

Cat whiskers vs. other animals’ whiskers

Most mammals come equipped with whiskers. The placement and size of them vary based on how they serve the animal’s needs. Cats have whiskers on the sides of their muzzles, but we also see them above their eyes, near the ears and jaw, as well as on their “wrists.”

Even most marine mammals have whiskers, which appear primarily on the face. Sea lions, whose whiskers are naturally oval-shaped, change the direction of their whiskers while they’re swimming to reduce noise from whisker vibration. This allows them to be more in tune with their environment and aware of nearby food or predators. How cool is that?

The final word on, “Why do cats have whiskers?”

Now that we’ve answered, “Why do cats have whiskers?” you know what to do next: Admire your kitty’s gorgeous whiskers all day long, but let those powerful sensors do their work!

Thumbnail: Photography © Peresmeh | E+ / Getty Images.

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