Posted on Nov 2, 2011 in Animals & pets
What do cats use their whiskers for? I mean, I know they look cute and all, but that can’t be the only reason they have them.
Yes, your cat’s whiskers make him look adorable. Yes, he’d look funny without them. However, while aesthetically pleasing, whiskers do actually serve a purpose for cats — a very important purpose. Let’s take a closer look.
A cat typically has twenty-four movable vibrissae, or whiskers, arranged in four rows on each side of its nose, on the upper lip. Some cats may have more, but 24 is a common number. They also have a few on each cheek, over the eyes, on the chin, and on the back of the legs. Whiskers are approximately two to three times thicker than the cat’s hair and are rooted very deep in the cat’s face, in an area that is loaded with nerve endings and blood vessels.
The area of the cat’s brain that receives information from the whiskers is very similar to the part of the brain that receives input from the eyes — the visual cortext. This means that cats can use their whiskers to build up a sort of 3-D image of their surroundings.
Even though cats have exceptional night vision, the whiskers allow them to “feel” their surroundings and build up a picture of objects around them, without ever needing to see them. The whiskers are also sensitive to air movements, which can indicate either prey or predators moving nearby.
In addition, whiskers aid in hunting — when a cat can’t see its prey because it is too close to its mouth, the whiskers move to form a basket-like shape, thus telling the cat exactly where the prey is. They also help a cat determine whether or not they’ll fit through an opening — you’ll notice a cat’s whiskers are roughly the same width as its body — so the cat will stick its face in an opening in an attempt to “measure” it to see if it will fit through.
Last, and most certainly not least for a cat owner, whiskers are a great indication of a cat’s mood. When a cat is in a defensive posture, angry, or otherwise in a bad mood, they will draw the whiskers back. When a cat is in a good mood, they will be more relaxed and pushed forward.
So when your little furry friend has his whiskers flattened back against his cheeks, you might want to think about giving him some space — or have the band-aids ready.
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