Why do cats have whiskers? Cat whiskers don’t just look cool — they’re the Swiss Army knife of your cat’s sensory and communications tool kit. Not only do they help her figure out where she’s going, they also tell her whether she’ll fit through openings, and they serve as an obvious demonstration of her mood. Here are seven interesting facts about cat whiskers — from why cats have whiskers to what exactly they do!
1. They are exquisitely sensitive
Cat whiskers are rooted much more deeply in the skin than ordinary fur, and the area around cat whiskers has a very generous supply of nerves and blood. This makes the whisker tips so sensitive that they can detect even the slightest change in the direction of a breeze. Because of that sensitivity, it can actually cause your cat pain if you mess with her whiskers. Eating out of a bowl that presses on your cat’s whiskers can also be disturbing, so consider feeding your cat on a plate or buying her a wide, flat feeding bowl.
2. They aren’t just on the nose
In addition to the eight to 12 cat whiskers your cat has on either side of her nose, she also has shorter whiskers above her eyes, on her chin, and on the backs of her lower front legs.
3. They help her figure out where she’ll fit
The whiskers on your cat’s nose are generally about as long as your cat is wide, so they help her to figure out how wide an opening is and whether she’ll fit through it. Some people say that if cats gain weight, their whiskers get longer; I haven’t seen enough evidence to know whether this is true.
4. Cat whiskers help your kitty position her prey
Cats are farsighted — they can’t see well up close — so when they catch their prey, whether that prey is a mouse or their favorite feather toy, they need some way to sense that their prey is in the proper position for the fatal bite. The whiskers on the back of your cat’s forelegs, and to a lesser extent, those on her chin and the sides of her nose, are crucial for that purpose.
5. They are an emotional barometer
The position of your cat’s whiskers can be an indicator of her mood. If her whiskers are relaxed and sticking out sideways, she’s calm. If they’re pushed forward, that means she’s excited and alert. And if they’re flattened against her cheeks, she’s angry or scared. Of course, you’ll need to check her “whiskergram” against her other body language, such as the position of her ears and tail, to confirm what those cat whiskers are telling you.
6. Cat whiskers should never be cut
Although your cat does shed a couple of whiskers from time to time, you should never trim cat whiskers. She’ll become disoriented and may begin acting dizzy and confused because she’s no longer receiving those vital navigation signals. Imagine if somebody grabbed you and put a blindfold on you and you couldn’t take it off for a few weeks — that’s about what it’s like for a cat whose whiskers get cut off.
7. Cat whiskers can change color
Don’t be surprised if you find a white whisker growing in your pure black cat’s fur as she ages: Cats do start going gray with age, but it’s not noticeable unless your cat’s fur is a dark, solid color.
Thumbnail: Photography ©Анатолий Тушенцов | Thinkstock.
This piece was originally published in 2017.
30 thoughts on “7 Cool Facts About Cat Whiskers”
My tabby her whiskers are so long she’s a rescue I’ve had for a year and she’s getting so fat should I cut back on her food
My black cat’s whiskers turned white as he aged. Very dramatic
Iv’e just recently moved to a larger home. Literaly a LARGER home, Blessed be out of the city!!!! My little dogs have a run to play ball 30 feet. My cat cat has the run of not only the house but of heated basement. Her whiskers have multiplied in growth!!!! They now stretch outside of her beautiful face 4 inches rather than 2. I believe the move stretched her wings….
I have an overweight kitty who’s whiskers are very long, and longer than my skinny cat’s whiskers
I’ve read plenty about carpal wiskers on cats front legs, but one of my cats has them on all four legs, and along the edges of her belly. Is this “unique”?
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I must trim one of my Selkirk Rex’s whiskers regularly so it doesn’t grow into his eye.
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Many of the cats rescued from the Paradise fire here in California had their whiskers singed off. What special treatment should they have to deal with this?
Poor kitties — thank you for caring for them. We suggest asking a vet for specific care instructions.
Nora, who was a grey mackerel tabby (rip), had ticked cheek whiskers: black bases with white tips.
I recently retired and moved from an 11 room home to a 2 room w bath condo closer to family. I live alone with my cat, andI really think his cheek whiskers have grown longer. Could this be because there is a much smaller home with more crowded floor space?
Here are some more pieces on whiskers that might lend some insight:
Why does a cat have whiskers on one side only or the whiskers don’t look the same
My cat have one gray hair and the others is black y that?
Here’s some insight into cat fur colors:
My ginger tabby has a mix of white and black whiskers. Is this unusual?
~ Maris, keenly observing Leo
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My cat has gotten pretty wide and her whiskers are longer than ever. I believe that the whiskers grow as their waistline does.
My ginger tabby has always had white whiskers but recently grew one black eyebrow whisker. He started getting black nose freckles a year or two ago which is normal. Is this also a sign of aging, or stress, genetics?
Hi there —
Here are some cat nose facts that might add some insight:
If a cat loses all of its whiskers, Can they go blind without them?
Your cat may be disoriented if she loses all her whiskers. If your cat is losing whiskers rapidly, please contact your vet.