Cat Whiskers


Maybe kitty will grow into them…Image Copr. Diane G. Zooms/Flickr

I’m fascinated by kitty whiskers, how about you? Does your cat have lots of whiskers, or only a few? Have you noticed how s/he actually uses them? Seren has a “wild” whisker that’s started to grow curled forward now that she’s an aging kitteh. And for some of the longer furred cats, you might not even see all of the whiskers.


Lady Tornado --"IT'S HOT!!

Whiskers also express emotion! Image Copr. Arlene Castro/Flickr


Whiskers are a type of specialized hair referred to as vibrissae or sinus hairs. They’re most prominent on the cat’s muzzle. But take a moment and look–many cats also have whiskers on their eyebrows, toward the rear of their cheeks or below the chin, and Seren even has some on the underside of the lower forelegs. Whiskers are very long and stiff, yet flexible, and serve a sensory function for the cat. Think of cat whiskers as feline antennae.

The hairs are seated deep in the skin, with the base of the hair surrounded by a forest of nerve endings. These nerves register the slightest vibration or contact with the hair. Whiskers detect everything from the measure of a narrow opening, to shifts in the wind and barometric pressure. Whiskers also protect the cat’s eyes from injury, providing a startle reflex that shuts the eyes if anything touches them. Cats also communicate with their whiskers–learn to decipher felinese in the ComPETability book.

Whiskers are also said to be good luck. For a while, I collected the whiskers that Seren shed, when I could find them. What about your cats? Are the whiskers the same color as kitty’s coat, or a contrasting color?  Curly or straight? Some cats groom off each others whiskers, too. (I wonder what they taste like…)


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Cat Whiskers — 7 Comments

  1. If it’s possible to have whiskers there, Simba has them. I have seen whiskers on that cat where I’ve never seen whiskers on a cat before. Nose, eyebrows, chin, cheeks, feet… she’s got whiskers EVERYWHERE. Which now I think is a VERY good thing given she’s going blind, so I’m sincerely hoping that will help her navigate if/when she loses her vision completely.

    The neatest thing I’ve ever seen done with whiskers was this: Through the life of their cat they had collected whiskers that were dropped, so once the cat dies they got used in that sculpture.

  2. Mom told me about when she was a kid their family had friends and their little boy was very nasty. One day he cut off all their cat’s whiskers. The poor cat was lost…it was like having the gps go off in the middle of a huge city. Whiskers are important, not just for decoration. Eventually kitty grew a new set but I guess it was not pretty!

    • Emma that’s p-awful, the poor kitty. But you know, some kitties “barber” off each others whiskers, too. Wonder if that’s like biting your nails and just a nervous habit?

  3. This was such a great blog subject. Thomas, my male yellow tabby has real long white whiskers. Macy, my other yellow tabby and Thomas’ sister has long white whiskers also but a couple of black ones mixed in with the white. Never had a cat with multi-colored whiskers. What causes that? Might be one of those things like Thomas and Macy having freckles on their lips and roof of their mouths. I do find whiskers laying around and it’s amazing how long they are and how stiff they are on the end that goes in the skin. Cutting cats whiskers off seems so cruel and reminds me of a parakeet I had when I was 16 and my 8 year old cousin spent the night with us. His mother picked him up early the next morning. After he left I went and took my towel off the cage to feed my bird and my cousin had pulled out a couple of it’s feathers and blood was in the bottom of the cage and there laid my sweet Henrietta. I guess doing that was so traumatic that it just killed her. I was sooooooo upset. Animals have feelings too.

    • Hi Patricia, since the whiskers are specialized hairs, I suppose the color arises from the same place the coat color comes from. Some cats have contrasting whiskers, and others don’t. You’d think if the visual communication is important, then all cat whiskers would be hi-def color contrast, though. 🙂

      That’s terrible about Henrietta! I hope it wasn’t intentional…maybe he wanted to get her out of the cage and grabbed feathers, and yes–they bleed. Shock easily kills those little birds. So sad…

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