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Why do cats have whiskers
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Why do cats have whiskers

The muzzles of our feline friends, as well as the ones of other animals (rodents, dogs, seals) have long and thick whiskers. Animal whiskers, as they're commonly called, say a lot about their health.

A cat can't be a true feline without its specific element- the whiskers, whose scientific name is vibrissae. Why do felines need these vibrissae and how do they aid them throughout their daily life?

Whiskers play an important role in an animal's capacity and navigating through any environment. Here's what the owners of wonderful pets must know about this unique feature of their cats.

What are vibrissae?

Even though they look like antennas, whiskers represent very susceptible hairs consisting of keratin. Keratin is a special "building material" located in skin, nails, teeth and hair. It contains amino acids that form special compounds and give it special properties - keratin can be dense, for example, in long and even hair, or vice versa, soft, like in children's hair. Keratin is also found in the lining of cat claws.

Vibrissae, also called tactile hairs, go under the skin of an animal much deeper than normal hair. Moreover, each follicle, that is, the place where the whisker connects to the body, has a lot of nerve endings that are quite perceptive.

Vibrissae near the nose of a feline are more noticeable than all the other distinctive features of an animal's appearance. In total, scientists have counted 24 such hairs, uniformly spread on the muzzle - twelve on each side. As a rule, the length of these hairs is proportional to the width of the animal's torso. But if the cat suddenly gains weight, the hair do not become longer.

When it comes to cats, whiskers generally grow on their chin, above their eyes, plus, on the back of their front paws.

a cat with a fake moustache on it's nose
a cat with a fake moustache on it's nose

Why do cats have whiskers?

Cat whiskers aren't simple hair, as, perhaps, it has already become clear. They represent a perfect tool associated with one of the five main senses of an animal - touch. The whiskers orient the feline in space, including, for example, whether it is possible to pass through a narrow doorway or squeeze between cabinets. Whiskers also help cats express their emotions and detect potential prey.

All of a cat's vibrissae work together as a single "tactile organ" to help the feline not bump into furniture and other objects, and when they try to catch objects. In general, almost all motor actions of cats are directly dependent on whiskers.

The whiskers also allow a cat to "see" if it's dark, by sensing the air currents around them. The whiskers can also aid the cat to pinpoint the exact whereabouts and magnitude of the desired item.

Why do cats have such long whiskers?

These special hairs are a necessary communication tool and sometimes even help felines express their displeasure. For instance, cat whiskers that are lowered or pressed to the muzzle represent acute aggression - this is also good to know for a cat owner.

Can one cut off a cat's whiskers?

As with whisker trimming, if one accidentally cuts off the tip of the whisker during a nail manicure or medical procedure, this won't injure the pet.

They will grow out in a few months, and the cut won't bring any pain, because there aren't any nerve endings in the hair itself.

Anyways. don't specifically cut off or pull out vibrissae. It is advised to always stay away from them, because they are exceptionally susceptible to pain. Trimming whiskers might result in disorientation, dizziness, and, consequently, anxiety. The furry one will be deprived of their sense of direction and will also be unable to control their body in space. Imagine if you were deprived of one of your senses.

Don't get anxious if you occasionally find fallen whiskers. With age, vibrissae in pets begin to fall out, but new ones always grow in their place. After a cat reaches old age, their whiskers might become gray. This is a completely normal sign of the aging process.

It's best to leave your cat's whiskers alone and let them do their job of keeping your fluffy pet healthy and well.

a close up of a white cat with blue eyes
a close up of a white cat with blue eyes

Why do cats' whiskers break?

The absence of whiskers or a reduction in their length can be seen quite easily. Moreover, they are quite easy to distinguish from fur hairs. Vibrissae differ in structure from ordinary fur - these hairs are longer, thicker, have a more complex structure, and a huge number of nerve endings are hidden in them.

How to treat such a find? Is it worth panicking or is whisker alopecia in adult felines or small kittens the norm?

In case you don’t know the reason why a whisker came off, this process might make you wary (although not always, the whiskers can fall out due to natural wear and tear). Don't worry - new ones are already growing!

Meanwhile, it is still necessary to be careful - the whiskers don't always fall out by themselves. The explanation of the loss or increased fragility of whiskers is often associated with:

  1. Malnutrition, is an insufficient amount of vitamins, minerals, calcium, and biotin in the diet;

  2. The presence of parasites;

  3. Microbial or fungal diseases;

  4. Mechanical injury;

  5. Dermatitis.

If you, as a caring owner, notice that the cat's whiskers are breaking or falling out, try to determine the cause.

There is another reason why whiskers can break or fall:

Often, the ugly shape or increased fragility of such hairs is associated with a genetic predisposition of felines and the individual characteristics of the breed. For instance, Maine Coons' mustaches are very long, even, sticking out in all directions.

In 2005, a cat received the title of the owner of the longest whiskers in the world among cats - her whiskers reached a size of 7.5 inches!

In representatives of the Cornish Rex, Devon Rex, and Sphynx breeds, the whiskers initially look like broken lines. They are small in length and can be twisted, bent, and wrinkled. There are times when these hairs are none or quite a few. That is fine- you do not have to do anything or worry about your cat’s health!