Why Do Cats Have Whiskers, And What Exactly Do They Do?


What’s the deal with whiskers? These seemingly innocuous feline attributes serve a much more important purpose than you might have realized. Cat whiskers are more than just adorable li’l hairs on your cat’s muzzle: they’re a tool for communication and survival. Read on for six things you might not have known about your cat’s whiskers!

1. What ARE Whiskers?

Whiskers are a type of hair! Also called “vibrissae” or tactile hairs, whiskers are two to three times thicker than a cat’s regular hair.
These specialized tactile hairs are also rooted three times deeper in the skin than regular cat fur and are surrounded by sensitive nerves and blood vessels.
This is what makes your cat’s whiskers so sensitive, especially when eating or drinking. When air moves across the whiskers, they vibrate, stimulating the nerves and sending sensory information to the cat's brain.

2. Mystical Mystacials

The whiskers growing around your cat’s muzzle are called mystacial whiskers; cats normally have around 12 mystacial whiskers on either side of their nose, though some have more.
Cats can also have whiskers above their eyes (superciliary), on their chin (mandibular), and even on the backs of their lower front legs (carpal whiskers).

3. Whiskers Are Like Tiny Radars 

Cat whiskers give cats an almost sixth sense - their whiskers act similar to tiny radar dishes that transform them from our fluffy friends into elite and efficient predators.

As a cat moves and stalks its prey, air is stirred up - when that air hits a wall or other animal (like their prey), it bounces back and is then received by their sensitive whiskers and alerts them to their prey's location and movements. But can also alert them to other predators by detecting changes in the air.

Whiskers also help your cat determine if they’ll fit into a tight space. Their whiskers tend to be about as long as your cat is wide, so they help figure out how wide an opening is and whether they'll fit through it.

4. Whiskers Make For Better Hunting

Whiskers make your cat a better hunter. Cats are farsighted and can’t see well up close - in fact, they have a blind spot directly under their chin!

When a cat is going in for the killing bite when hunting their prey, whether it’s their favorite mouse toy or a real mouse, your cat needs a way to make sure their prey is in the right position.

Featuring Mouse Hunt Cat Toy, App-Controlled

That’s where the whiskers on the back of your cat’s forelegs and chin come in. A cat’s whisker tips are equipped with sensory organs called proprioceptors that help the cat determine an object’s distance, direction, and even surface texture. 

5. Read Between The Whiskers

Your cat’s whiskers can tell you how they’re feeling. If your cat’s whiskers are relaxed and sticking out sideways, your cat is calm and relaxed.

Whiskers pressed flat against their cheeks mean a cat is scared, feels threatened, or is angry.

Whiskers pointed straight out and held tense can mean your cat’s feeling inquisitive of their environment or in hunting mode - you may notice this when you hold out your hand or other object for your cat to sniff!

6.  Record-Setting Whiskers

A Maine coon cat that lives in Finland named Fullmoon’s Miss American Pie (AKA “Missi”) holds the record for longest whiskers in the world; in 2005, Guinness World Records measured them at a whopping 7.5 inches long!

Now that you've heard the long and short of it about whiskers, what do you think? Do you know any other cat whisker facts? Let us know in the comments below!  


    • Izzy

      Whiskers are how you tell boy cats from girl cats. Everybody knows knows that boy cats have whiskers.

    • Cathy Berry

      I knew they used them to determine whether or not they fit into a space, but the rest I did not know! Very interesting😻

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