Everyone once in a while, you may find strange, long, white hair lying around. Upon further examination, you realize it is one of your cat’s whiskers. You are aware that your cat needs her whiskers. They are an important part of a cat’s equipment. If they fall out, could this be harmful?
What if they are cut? Young children have been know to take a pair of scissors to a cat’s whiskers. They may simply think that those hairs on kitty’s face are too long and she needs a trimming. Is this harmful? Even more important, does it hurt?
Whiskers are Hair and They Grow Back
The good news is that whiskers are hair. The whisker itself has no nerves or feelings. If you cut a whisker, it does not hurt. And, like any hair, it will grow back. However, it can take months. Losing a few whiskers here and there is a part of a cat’s normal shedding process. They never lose more than a couple.
Cat’s occasionally shed their whiskers. One may fall out while your cat is rubbing their cheeks on some favorite object. When this happens, the whisker was ready to go. It will grow back, but it takes a while.
However, these long hairs are special and they are attached to specialized nerve endings at their base which makes them sensitive to vibration, air currents, or being touched. So, if you pull out a cat’s whisker, it will hurt like the dickens!
The whisker hairs extend deeper into the skin than regular hairs and are surrounded by fibrous blood-filled capsule and an connected to important sensory nerves. This makes them very sensitive, which explains why some cats may not like you to mess with their whiskers, especially if you try to stroke them “against the grain.” There are a few cats, though, that will enjoy a little whisker petting, if you gently smooth the whiskers back against the face.
Cats can detect the slightest air movement, and use their whiskers to judge their surrounding. Very useful when hunting through thick brush at night or navigating crowded environments with stealth.
You may have heard that a cats whiskers are a long as his body is wide. Well, this probably depends on how much you feed your cat, but in general a cat can use his whiskers to judge if he can fit through an opening. If the whiskers rub up against the sides of the opening, the cat knows he cannot fit. And, he will be able to detect even the slightest touch.
Trying to count your cat’s whiskers is a bit like herding cats, but a cat will have 20 to 30 whiskers in all. In fact, those whiskers on her face are not the only ones.
Different Types of Cat Whiskers
A cat’s whiskers are technically termed vibrassae. They can be controlled by your cat via various muscles called arrector pilae. You have these muscles to. They make your hairs stand up when you have ‘goose pimples.’ However, we cannot control ours; a cat can, pointing the whiskers out, pulling them in, etc. Generally, they will move them forward when greeting your, or another cat, and backwards when eating, feeling threatened, or fighting.
The long whiskers on your cat’s upper lip are called mystacials. Sounds a bit like mustache, doesn’t it? The shorter whiskers on the lower jaw are called mandibulars.
The whiskers further back on the cat’s upper cheek, or back behind the corner of her eyes, are called genals. Did you even noticed these?
And, those little whiskers over her eyes, the ones that stick upwards, are called supercilliaries. See if you can spot all of these on in the picture above.
But wait, there’s more!
Cat’s also have little tufts of whiskers growing from the back of each of their front legs. Look for these just above the “ankle” or carpal pad. Examining them is difficult, though, and you might get a little bite for your trouble.
The whiskers on your cats face come into play for all the reasons given above, but are also useful when your cat captures prey. The facial whiskers help your cat deliver killing bits, and the whiskers on the back of the front legs help detect what the prey is doing by feeling the struggle and sensing escape attempts.
Despite how cuddly your cat may be, everything about her body is precision designed for hunting.