Why Cats Have Whiskers and How They Use Them

While cats, like humans, visually assess the world around them, they also have an important sensory tool that heightens their perception – whiskers.

The tips of a cat’s whiskers relay signals to her brain and communicate more information about her surroundings, such as how much space there is to maneuver. Find out more about the primary function of whiskers and how they act as a built-in GPS to help cats navigate the world around them.

What is the purpose of a cat’s whiskers?

Also called “vibrissae”, whiskers are long, stiff yet flexible hairs located between the corners of a cat’s mouth and outer edges of the nose. They can also be found under the chin, above both eyes and on their hind legs – all areas which are rich in nerves.

Felines have between 16 and 24 whiskers in their lifetime, all of which match their body width so they can determine if they will fit between certain gaps without getting trapped.

Whiskers also serve as a warning system to a cat when she’s sleeping, as they alert her if something is approaching her face in the darkness so she’s not caught off-guard.

Because whiskers emulate a sense of touch for cats, it’s important that you never trim or cut them.

How whiskers relate to body language

Aside from communicating her mood through purring, hissing or other forms of body language, a cat’s whiskers are also a good indicator of how she’s feeling.

  • Relaxed whiskers (standing still and straight out) mean your cat is content and happy
  • Whiskers pushed forward tensely indicate she’s on the prowl to hunt.
  • If you notice the whiskers are pulled back along her cheeks, she’s stressed or afraid.

Now that you know a little more about how your kitty companion uses her whiskers, connect with Hartz on social media and tell us the smallest, tightest or funniest space your cat has squeezed into!