Ask A Vet: Why Do My Cat’s Whiskers Fall Out?


cat whiskers

Cats’ whiskers are really cool. Not only are they an attractive facial feature of cats, but they are an amazing source of sensory information for the cat too. They can help her tell about the width of a passage that she is traveling and perceive information about her environment. The stimulation of the pads where the whiskers attach has been shown to cause activity in specific neurons in the brain. Human beings do not have truly analogous anatomy and we probably do not need them for our daily lives, but our cats do. Her whiskers can help her navigate in tight spaces and areas of low light.

Your cat can gain a lot of information about her environment from the nerve endings that surround her whiskers (vibrissae), from touch to vibration.  The stimulation tells her things about her environment. These remarkable adaptations make her a better hunter and help her to keep herself safe from danger.

So how bad is it when the whiskers fall out or break off? Are they gone forever?

The whiskers themselves are specialized hairs. Like any hair, they can cycle through and be lost and replaced.nIt is not dangerous to your cat to lose one, but it is not ideal for the whiskers to be cut or removed. The truly amazing feature of the cat’s whiskers is in the nerve ending attachment on her face. The hairs themselves act more as antennae, like the ones on some of our cars. We can unscrew the antennae to go into a car wash and if we forget to put them back, our radios do not tune as well, but once the antenna is back in place, all is well again.

If you find whiskers around your home, don’t worry, but do take a minute to appreciate the wonder of this sensory adaption that makes your cat more stealthy and tuned in to her environment than us puny humans can ever be!

Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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