A distinctive characteristic of any feline friend is their long whiskers. A cat’s whiskers are important, not just for their mobility but also for their pride!
They are a stand-out feature on every cat, found above their mouths, on their chin, above their eyes, and even on their front legs.
But what are whiskers? Why do cats have whiskers? What purpose do they serve? Should you cut them?
Here, you can find out everything you need to know about your cat’s whiskers and what will happen if you cut them.
What Are Whiskers?
Vibrissae, commonly known as whiskers, are special hairs found on a cat. They are made from a fibrous protein called keratin that is also found in a cat’s claws.
It’s the same protein found in horns, hoofs, wool, and feathers that appear on other animals. Almost all mammals have whiskers, except for humans of course!
Whiskers are thicker than any other hair on a cat’s body. A whisker follicle lies three times deeper than that of a cat’s hair.
They have very reactive and extremely sensitive nerves, which gives whiskers their main purpose - they help a cat to navigate their environment and make sense of their surroundings.
How Do Cats Use Their Whiskers?
A cat’s whiskers are able to pick up vibrations and airflow changes, activating their nerve cells.
These cells then transmit information to a cat’s brain - they can determine the size, shape, and speed of nearby objects and beings.
This allows a cat to navigate its environment effectively, especially during the night.
There are four ways a cat uses its whiskers:
Whiskers detect air movement around a cat that can identify the qualities of nearby objects.
It allows a cat to determine where objects are in relation to its body. This is important because it lets the cat judge spaces and distances for jumping.
A cat’s whiskers can also allow it to communicate with other animals and humans, giving the cat the ability to show how it’s feeling. The whiskers are a part of a complex system for communication and body language.
A cat can move their whiskers independently as they are attached to muscles and nerve endings in its body. It allows the cat to show emotion. For example, a curious cat will pull its whiskers forward and fan them out.
Cats are nearsighted creatures, so they have trouble focusing on close-range objects. The whiskers on a cat’s chin help them find objects underneath and around their face.
For example, a cat may take a moment to find a treat that’s close to them because they are using their whiskers to find it.
Whiskers also help cats hunt. When hunting, a cat will push their whiskers forward to increase their range and to know where they need to pounce.
Like eyelashes on a human, whiskers help protect a cat’s eyes. They have very delicate eyes and can be easily damaged.
The sensitive whiskers above a cat’s eyes trigger its blink reflex when touched and protect its eyes from any harm.
The other whiskers on a cat’s face can detect danger too, such as a thorny bush, letting a cat know to back away.
What Happens If I Cut A Cat’s Whiskers?
While cutting a cat’s whiskers doesn’t hurt them, it does severely affect them, and pulling them out can cause a cat severe pain.
Accidentally cutting a cat’s whiskers, or a necessary trimming for a procedure at the vet, won’t be harmful to a cat short-term as they do eventually grow back. However, regular trimming will have a negative impact on a cat.
Clipping a cat’s whiskers can cause it to become very disorientated. It will become distressed as it will no longer be able to navigate its surroundings properly.
It won’t be able to judge the distance of gaps when leaping, how close dangerous objects are, or whether or not they can fit through a particular gap.
This will affect a cat’s confidence when exploring indoors or venturing outside and may make it fearful of its surroundings.
Cats that spend a lot of time outside will especially be at a disadvantage if their whiskers are cut. There are a lot more hazards and obstacles outside for a cat to navigate, and without its whiskers, it will struggle to avoid danger.
Like their claws, cats are very proud of their whiskers. Removing them may cause a cat to become introverted and behave differently from its usual personality.
Trimming a cat’s whiskers can also put its sensitive eyes at risk of damage.
As previously mentioned, whiskers above a cat’s eyes prompt it to blink to avoid getting dust and debris in its eyes and also warn them of protruding objects.
A cat is at a much greater risk of eye injury without whiskers.
To Conclude: Do Not Cut Them!
A cat’s whiskers are a highly specialized part of their anatomy and they absolutely should not be cut, unless it’s for veterinary purposes. They use them to hunt, navigate, communicate, and protect themselves.
Clipping a cat’s whiskers is not painful for it, however, it will incapacitate them and stop the whiskers from working properly. It can cause anxiety for a cat and put them in harm’s way, especially when exploring outside.
To keep your cat safe and happy, avoid trimming your cat’s whiskers.
At Love4Cats, our practice involves consistent collaboration with licensed veterinarians and reputable industry experts. However, it's important to note that the content provided on Excited Cats is not intended as veterinary advice. While we strive to enhance your understanding of feline care, the information presented on this blog should not replace professional veterinary guidance.