Aside from giving personality and curious looks to our felines, cats’ whiskers have an important function in them. They guide them through locations and help them know everything about their surroundings.
An almost completely unknown fact about whiskers is that their true name is actually “vibrissae”. The hairs of the cats’ whiskers will only be vibrissae if they are thick and much longer than the normal fur of their faces. What you might not know either is that a cat does not only have vibrissae in its snout. They also have them in different parts of their body, although those in its snout stand out more as they are the longest.
Other places where you can find vibrissae are at the edge of their eyes, on their pads, and behind their front legs. The vibrissae of their “whiskers” are those that fulfill one of the most important functions since they help them with many essential tasks.
Cat whiskers are useful in numerous ways. Cats use them daily, and without them, they could have perception and movement problems. Nevertheless, you may wonder, how can simple hairs be so important to a cat? The answer is that at their base, there is a large amount of circulating blood and a great variety of nerves, so the cat is especially sensitive in its whiskers.
Vibrissae are a feline radar, with which they can detect the tiniest air streams and even strong sound waves. Perhaps, you might have seen your cat moving its whiskers from sideways. Cats perform this behavior when they want to examine their surroundings since the slightest movement lets the cat know about every detail of the environment.
Cats also use their whiskers as an indicator to know whether they can continue along the path that they are going through if it becomes narrow. Whiskers possess the same size as the entire measurement of the cat’s body. Therefore, if their whiskers bend when entering through an opening, it may be the indication that the space is too narrow for their body, and they will look for another way to go through.
At high speed, cats can detect air streams and know when something interrupts it. This way, they can know the exact location of objects that can be obstacles around them.
Although we cannot know for sure the connection that whiskers have with a cat’s sense of smell, they help them precisely identify distant smells, thus sharpening their sense of smell.
Whiskers are not so necessary by day when the cat can use its sharp sense of sight. Contrarily, they are more necessary at night, when the cat cannot fully use its sense of sight and needs to rely on other senses to achieve a successful hunt.
The sensitivity of the whiskers for sounds at close range is very good. By combining this ability of the vibrissae with the ability to detect the slightest air stream, the cat can triangulate the exact position of the prey and strike a direct attack on the neck, killing it immediately.
Now that you are aware of what your cat’s whiskers are for, make sure you do not cut them when you change their looks and be careful not to touch them when you are petting them since you could accidentally break them.