A cat has stiff, rather long hairs on her face. Majority of people think, mistakenly so, that a cat’s whiskers are just like their fur. Maybe only stronger and longer.
The truth is that there is more to a cat’s whiskers than meets the eye. Unlike her hair that is practically superficial and ends somewhere just beneath her skin, cat’s whiskers run deep. With receptors that interconnect and relay signal to the cat’s brain and also to her nervous system.
Save for the very prominent whiskers on the face of the cats that most of us are so familiar with. These pets also have whiskers on both their fore and hind legs. So exactly, why do cats have whiskers? Why is it so important for a cat to have whiskers?
Whiskers Are Built-In Radars
Studies have shown that although a cat’s eyesight is better equipped to see objects that are near as compared to those that are at a distance. They often fail to see objects that are right under their nose. We also know that cats are nocturnal, right! While that may sound good enough, it may not cushion them from the vulnerability of attacks that would come with being out there in the dark.
A cat’s whiskers have powerful nerves at her follicles that allow her to sense the slightest of movement. That’s probably why they are better known as vibrissae, from the word vibrations. As they sense pretty much any motion, including those of air currents.
She’s, therefore, able to detect any creature that is around her, giving her the upper hand in deciding what to do – Lay low, launch an attack in its defense or run away. That explains why even blind cats get around just fine.
Whiskers Communicate Moods And Emotions
Understanding the language of any pet is difficult. The beauty about cats is that you can read into their emotions at a given moment and time by looking at how her whiskers are arranged.
The muscles on her face are conditioned to move the cat’s whiskers back and forth to reflect her mood swings. When she is in a hunt mode, save for the eyes that will be full blown and alert, her whiskers will tend to slightly focus forward. When she is restful, her whiskers will point straight outwards away from her head.
But when she is upset, apart from noticing the grin on her face and the hairs on her spine stretching to her tail standing out – her whiskers will also be pressed back towards her face. How nice! Understanding your cat allows you to care for her even better.
A Cats Whiskers Helps It Position Itself For A Catch
Well, you probably haven’t had an opportunity to watch your cat hunt down a rat or something like that. But you must have seen how it positions itself before it gets hold of a playing ball in a room or even a thread that’s being dragged on the floor of the house.
Given that cats are nearsighted. Taking down prey can be daunting, to say the least. Getting a catch is even harder considering the speed and mischief that a rat demonstrates. A cat’s whiskers help it to position itself for the right position that will guarantee a sure catch.
A Cats Whiskers Helps It Figure Out Size
It’s amazing how a cat would squeeze its body through a very tiny entrance. Well, the whiskers that stick out from the sides of the nose of your cat are often as wide as the cat itself. This enables it to figure out if the size of a hole or a pressed entrance is sizable enough for it to pass through.
Scientists also note that cats don’t have an actual collar bone like many animals. This further explains why cats are very flexible. If it can get its head through, then the rest of her body is no big deal.
Whiskers Help A Cat Climb Heights And Also Balance Walking On Relatively Thin Surfaces
Cats are quite athletic. In one moment your cat could be strolling lazily on the ground. Threaten it, and it will climb a tree or building to safety in no time. This is made possible not by the whiskers on its face but those on the back of its legs that allow it to gauge heights with precision.
The whiskers on the face of your cat give it a balancing equilibrium effect such that it can balance its paws on the edges of roofs or thin trees branches.
Whiskers Helps a Cat To Hold Down Prey
Wild animals like the tiger, cheater, leopard and the likes have a close physical resemblance to the domestic cat. They are prey animals and are known to be prolific hunters. In fact, they are broadly termed as the cat family.
Given that your cat is level headed, the whiskers on her forelegs, better known as carpal vibrissae enable it to hold down its prey. She is able to do this as her whiskers allow her to detect the slightest movement the prey is making.
What Happens When A Cat Loses Its Whiskers?
With the full knowledge of the functions of a cat’s whiskers, it is startling to think about how the lack of the same would affect the cat. In your efforts to groom your cat, you could have trimmed the overgrown edges of her whiskers. Worse still, you may have acted in ignorance and shaved off all her whiskers and brought it to the level of her fur.
Cats that have lost their whiskers for one reason or another have been reported to look confused and disoriented. Don’t take my word for it, research done have shown that the lack of whiskers on cats has detrimental effects on them.
Details of the research reveal that the lack of whiskers on a cat makes them unable to figure out the correct size of openings, they misjudge and get stuck in spots that they would have avoided if they would have had their whiskers in place.
The study also showed that cats without whiskers experienced trouble walking or running straight. They were wobbly and kept falling. They also misjudged the heights of trees and buildings and would hit a miss and fall over.
What is Whisker Fatigue/Stress?
Simply put, whisker fatigue is overstimulation of sensory organs at the tip of whisker follicles to the cat’s brain – we can refer to it as some sought of information overload to a cat’s brain. Scientists actually argue that the appropriate word would be distaste and not fatigue.
What Causes Whisker Fatigue?
A cat’s whiskers are highly sensitive to any contact or the slightest of movement. Research has proved that unlike humans who can ‘block’ what they find unnecessary. All the messages relayed at the follicles of a cats whiskers gets to her cat’s brain in their totality.
Well, what if these messages are streaming in seamlessly? That means that your cat’s brain will keep getting signals continuously. That sounds irritating. And who wouldn’t get pissed off in such circumstances? The most obvious reaction is that your cat will snap.
According to petmed, serving a cat food in a bowl that’s deep is irritating enough for the cat to stay away from the food even when hungry.
You must have noticed that with your cat. This is because the constant rubbing of its whiskers on the sides of the bowl relentlessly sends signals to her brain. In such circumstances, you must have noticed your cat trips the bowl to scatter its contents before feeding.
You might also have noted that when you scare a beating on your cat continuously using your hand or an object. It will stomach those actions only to some point no matter how subtle its temperament. If you keep at it, some cats attack and bruise. Some show a grin, like that of an angry animal wanting to charge back, while some walk away to end the episode. These attempts by the cat to make you stop will consequently stop the transmission of messages to its brain and give it the much-needed peace.
How Can You Prevent Whisker Fatigue?
The practices that prevent whisker fatigue are equally the ideal ways you would use to care for your cats whiskers. Preventing whisker fatigue is easy.
- Yes, it’s as simple as getting a replacement for food and water bowls with those that are not only shallow but also wide. These will minimize contact of the cat’s whiskers to the edges of her feeding bowl
- Avoid hitting or even joking about hitting her unnecessarily. Also, beware of kids’ continual desire to get at your cat (because they can be very knotty at this). It irritates her to the core.
- Do all the grooming there you want to do on your cat, but never trim or shave down her whiskers.
Nature has had its way of eliminating animal species that lacked adaptation features that would make them survive to see the next generation.
Studies have also proved that the abilities that cat whiskers present do make it a much superior animal than a dog would ever be. Primarily because dogs only employ their sense of smell and hunting tactics to get by, tactics that are also familiar with cats.
Well, cat’s whiskers are probably the reason why cats have been able to survive through the centuries. Hunting down prey and staying clear of trouble. However, critics have named the cat as highly paranoid. While that is understandably true. They have no control because that is just how they were wired. The best you can do is to help her take care of her whiskers because therein lies the secret to her survival.