While it may seem tempting to smarten up your cat’s appearance and give their wild unruly whiskers a neat trim, this should never be done and we will explain why.
What are whiskers?
Whiskers, also known as vibrissae, are coarse thick hairs that originate from whisker follicles situated deep within the skin. Unlike the other hairs on a cat’s body, whiskers are much more sensitive as the follicles they grow out of are packed with nerves. In fact, whiskers are actually thought to be as sensitive as human fingertips!
You may not have noticed, but cats don’t just have whiskers on their cheeks. In fact, cats also have whiskers above their eyes, on their jaw line and on their front legs.
At the tip of each whisker are special sensory organs known as proprioceptors. These are capable of detecting changes in air currents by subtle vibrations. This information is transmitted down the whisker and into the nerve receptors in the hair follicle, before being sent to the brain.
What do whiskers do?
Whiskers have a whole range of functions which is why they are so important. Cats have the ability to move their whiskers and detect changes in air currents and vibrations. This can be used like an additional sense to help them navigate their environment.
Not only do whiskers help to protect your cat’s face and eyes from scratches, but they also act as a measuring tape. This allows cats to gauge how tight a gap is and determine whether they can fit through it – cats are nosey for a reason!
The proprioceptors at the end of whiskers send information to the brain which adds it to information about the position of the body and limbs. This is why cats are so agile and acrobatic and brilliant at jumping onto narrow fences!
The position of whiskers can also help a cat to communicate . If their whiskers are pulled taut and close to their face, it indicates that they may feel threatened or shy. A neutral position shows they are content. Whilst if the whiskers point away from the face and are fanned outwards, the cat is either exploring their environment, playing or hunting.
We all know that cats are brilliant hunters. This in part is related to their whiskers which act like radars. Air currents cause vibrations which are detected by the whiskers, alerting cats to the presence of prey. Cats also use their whiskers as feelers to detect the location, size and texture of an object. This is done by brushing against it and helps them to navigate their way in the dark.
Why shouldn’t I cut my cat’s whiskers
As we have discussed, whiskers have many functions and aren’t just there for cosmetic purposes. Cutting whiskers is not only painful, but can decrease a cat’s spatial awareness. This can cause them to knock into things, become disorientated, less able to protect themselves from danger and less agile. So, put the scissors away and let your cat’s whiskers grow wild!