If you’ve ever taken a moment to really look at your cat’s whiskers, you might be taken aback at just how long they are. With things like your hair and nails in mind, you may think that they’re too long, but that’s actually not the case at all. A cat’s whiskers grow proportionately according to the rough width of their body or how big of an area they can comfortably squeeze through.
That said, there’s a little wiggle room. A cat that overeats to the point of bulging won’t suddenly grow longer whiskers to compensate, nor will an underfed cat’s whiskers shrink to match their body size. Broadly speaking, a cat’s whiskers are about as long as the cat is wide, but they can be shorter or longer.
If you’ve ever wondered about what exactly the heck a cat’s whiskers do anyway, whether they’re anything like a dog’s whiskers, and more, you’ve come to the right page.
How Many Whiskers Do Cats Have and What Do They Do?
A cat’s whiskers are technically called vibrissae, and they each have a highly sensitive nerve ending at their base which receives a wealth of information about the environment. The average cat has roughly 12 whiskers on each side of their muzzle divided into three rough rows of four for a grand total of 24 whiskers. These whiskers are made of keratin, which also composes their claws. Simply put, it’s basically deeply embedded hair with lots of nerves.
However, these whiskers do a lot of jobs all at once and help cats stay aware of their surroundings. To be more specific, let’s look down below at all the functions that a cat’s whiskers serve.
Are Cat Whiskers Like Dog Whiskers?
It’s a short hop to wonder if cat whiskers are anything like the shorter, stiffer hairs that sprout out of a dog’s muzzle, and yes, they are! Just like with cats, a dog’s whiskers help them navigate in low light, sense objects, and convey their emotions.
The difference is that dogs have more numerous but shorter whiskers, with up to 20 roughly shorter whiskers on each side of their muzzle for a total of 40 whiskers. That sounds impressive, but dogs don’t actually rely on whiskers as heavily as cats do.
Do Cats Lose Their Balance Without Whiskers?
You may have heard that a cat will lose their balance if their whiskers are cut or damaged, but that’s really an urban myth stemming from a fundamental misunderstanding about what whiskers exactly do. Cats can detect air currents, movement, and tiny changes to their environment through their whiskers, and such things can look like black cat magic if you don’t know any better.
It’s a lot more nuanced than that, though, and it all goes back to the ear. Like us humans, cats’ ears act as tiny accelerometers that help orient their bodies, maintaining their balance. Whiskers aren’t involved in that and don’t have any direct effect on balance, but they do have an effect.
For instance, a cat who loses whiskers on one side of their muzzle will seem to “miss” objects on that side and have a harder time navigating around their familiar home. However, that does not actually have anything to do with their innate sense of balance, which remains excellent even with some missing whiskers.
Cat whiskers are surprisingly complex little instruments that help them find and trap prey, explore more freely, and even signal their innermost feelings. Cats depend on their whiskers more for these purposes than dogs, and it can be very detrimental to your cat’s quality of life if they’re damaged or accidentally cut for any reason.
Featured Image Credit: Uschi_Du, PIxabay