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From The Vet: 3 Things You Should Know About Your Cat’s Whiskers

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Cats have whiskers, even wild cats. They are a feature of a cat’s face. We can recognize even a rudimentary child’s drawing of a cat face if it has pointed ears and whiskers. We don’t think too much about them, but actually they are highly specialized adaptations that your cat needs. The whiskers are also called vibrissae. Many mammals have vibrissae and more studies have been done on the vibrissae of mice than cats, but we can extrapolate some of the ideas that may apply to cat whiskers too. Here are 3 things that you probably don’t know about your cat’s whiskers.

  1. Whiskers are located in spots other than the face.

They are not only on her face. The whiskers beside the nose are obvious when you glance at your cat and these are probably the ones most important to your cat, but there are also vibrissae in other places on your cat’s body. Cats have vibrissae over their eyes, on either side of the nose and on the front legs. The whiskers themselves are specialized hairs.

  1. Whiskers collect information.

They are a remarkable 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 also help her navigate in tight spaces and areas of low light. 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.

  1. Whiskers not only perceive, but can deliver information, too.

The whiskers can tell the cat information about their environment, but they can also tell us information about our cats, by acting as a communication tool. The position of your cat’s whiskers gives us insight into his emotions and intentions. Cats with their whiskers relaxed to the sides are calm and unperturbed, whereas if the whiskers are pulled forward, your cat might be alert or hunting. Frightened cats sometimes flatten their whiskers to the sides of the face.

Whiskers are really neat and they serve surprising purposes to and about our cats. The whiskers are just specialized hairs, so they can fall out and re-grow with no problem. They are usually not a source of health issues for cats. It can be a problem for a cat to have the whiskers cut off or pulled out. In fact, studies in mice in which the whiskers were removed changed the way juvenile animals matured and even influenced the posture of adult animals. Your cat’s whiskers add attractiveness to his face and provide information to and about your cat.

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Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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