The Story Behind Your Cat’s Whiskers

Ever stare at your cat and wonder what the deal is with whiskers? Are they hairs? Are they some weird mammalian form of antenna? What do they even do?

You've come to the right place for answers. Everything you've wanted to know about your cat's whiskers – but never thought to ask – is right here.

They are, in fact, hair

According to Animal Planet, your cat's whiskers are called "tactile hairs," or vibrissae. They grow from the whisker pad, which is the spot between your cat's mouth and nose. You've probably also noticed shorter whiskers above your cat's brows and on his or her chin, as well. And similar to the rest of your cat's hair, whiskers do fall out on their own and grow back. But that's where the similarities between whiskers and the rest of the fur pretty much stop. Here's what's different.

What whiskers do

Facial whiskers have three primary jobs, reported Animal Planet. They aid with navigation, help cats with spatial awareness in close quarters - like a doorway or behind the couch - and serve as a mood indicator. The whiskers can also detect minute changes in air current, which helps your pet navigate in the dark.

What kinds of moods do they indicate?

Catster reported that relaxed whiskers generally mean your cat is calm and content. When pushed forward, it indicates that your pet is alert and watchful. Flattened in the opposite direction, against the face, means your cat is not happy and is potentially scared.

Why you shouldn't cut whiskers

Unlike the rest of your cat's hair, facial whiskers are actually rooted quite deeply in a sensitive area filled with nerves and blood vessels. They're super sensitive for a reason, and you definitely don't want to snip them. For that same reason, Catster recommends not messing around with a cat's whiskers when you're petting or playing. And you might even want to feed your cat on a plate instead of a bowl, since the sensation of leaning into a bowl could be uncomfortable for cats with longer tactile hairs.

That's the mysterious meaning behind your cat's whiskers. Of course, there's always more to the story. Did you know that cats also have tactile hairs on the backs of their forelegs to help the nearsighted predator capture small prey? Explore more Hartz stories for the low down on all your cat's kooky habits.