If eyes are windows into the soul, then cats’ whiskers are a telescope into their mind. If you learn to translate the subtle twitches and tucks of cat whiskers, you’ll be one step closer to understanding the feline world. A cat’s whiskers are important mood indicators, danger detectors and navigational systems. What are your cat’s whiskers trying to tell you?

What’s in a whisker?

Whiskers are known in the veterinary anatomy world as vibrissae. Most cats have 10 to 14 of these long, stiff hairs projecting from four straight lines along their jaw. They have a few more jutting from the muzzle, under the chin and above their eyes. Most cats also have some whiskers on their front paws, just behind their wrists. While human hair is fairly inert and limp, a cat’s whiskers are connected to vitally important sensory tissues buried within the skin.

What do cats' whiskers do?

Whiskers help inform the cat about surrounding objects, air movements and other important environmental information. Whiskers may also be used to gauge whether a cat can slip into a tight space or darkened hole. Those tiny whiskers on the back of the front paws allow a cat to accurately assess where prey is in their grasp and quickly dart up a tree to safety. This is important because felines can’t see objects well up close (cats suffer from short-sightedness). Think of whiskers as cat glasses.

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Feline feelings

You can typically tell if a cat is nervous or angry by whiskers pointing forward at a potential threat. If you spot whiskers tucked close to the face, it’s a sign the cat is terribly frightened. Relaxed and droopy whiskers signal a calm and contented kitty.

Caring for (not cutting) kitty’s whiskers

Food and water bowls for cats need to be designed with sensitive whiskers in mind. Narrow bowls can be uncomfortable if they cause the whiskers to bend and flex excessively.

Whatever you do, don’t trim or pluck a cat’s whiskers. Cats can become disoriented and distraught when they lose this essential information system. They can lose the ability to judge spaces precisely and shy away from dark or narrow areas.

A furry feline face may be telling you more than you previously thought. In fact, a cat’s whiskers convey far more information and carry more importance than a dog’s shaggy mug.

While it’s true dogs use their whiskers a little, it’s similar to using an old rotary-dial telephone vs. a smartphone. Both allow you to talk, but one connects you to the world in astonishing detail. Tap into the secret world of cats starting with those pointy facial hairs. They’re telling you quite a bit.

Nov 28, 2016

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