Cat’s whiskers are also known as vibrissae. They are sturdy and thick hairs sprouting from the cat’s face, but most importantly they are important sensory organs directly connected to the cat’s nerve endings. The senses on the whiskers are so strong that the cat can feel what is in front of it even without touching it. Most people think that they are similar to fur and other types of hairs yet they are special hairs. For any cat owner, it is important to know everything about them. Is it possible for the whiskers to grow back? Keep reading to find out the answer and more information that I have compiled about the subject.
Can cat whiskers grow back? Yes, they can. Just like hair, they will grow back as long as the follicle beneath the skin is not damaged. They grow back because the cat needs them for important functions such as object localisation, detection of movement, locomotion, maintenance of equilibrium, exploration, displaying mood, as well as identification of shape and texture.
Did you know that cats have whiskers on other areas other than cheeks? They might go unnoticed, but a cat has whiskers on its chin, front legs, and above the eyebrows. Your cat can also move around its whiskers, thanks to the presence of intricate micro-muscles. They change their position to communicate different moods.
- Since they can grow back, is it okay to trim them?
- In what other conditions can a cat lose its whiskers?
- What is their role?
These are some of the questions asked about cats’ whiskers. It is important to learn everything about your feline friend for your understanding and so you can best care for them.
Can Cats Whiskers Grow Back?
Importance of Whiskers:
Whiskers are the most important sensory organs in cats. Each whisker has a fine-tuned neurological system that senses the change in air currents. Since cats mostly rely on whiskers for survival, they should be kept intact at all times. The only way they should be lost is through natural shedding. The following are some of the reasons why whiskers are important in cats.
Cat whiskers act as a radar system and touch receptors. They help them navigate in adverse environments and poor lighting. With the help of the whiskers around its muzzle, a cat can judge distances and calculate its next steps. It is can calculate when to jump to avoid a hole or an object, and to have a precise landing. This is why cats can leap so quickly and gracefully to escape danger. They can synchronise every part of their bodies, therefore, making quick reflexes. Whiskers also help a cat maintain its equilibrium by detecting the orientation of its body.
Communicating the mood of the cat
Whiskers act as indicators of a cat’s mood. When it is calm and relaxed, they are also immobile and neutral. When the whiskers turn inwards, the cat is trying to protect themselves from damage. What can be deducted from this information is that a cat turns the whiskers outwards when it is happy, contented, or excited, and inwards or erected when it is scared or annoyed.
Since cats are natural hunters, their bodies have adopted special athletic abilities that facilitate hunting. Whiskers are among the body parts that make cats good predators. They provide detailed information to a cat about its prey. Cats can detect tiny movements of their prey through small vibrations on the ground and tiny air currents. When a cat is chasing its prey, its whiskers are spread out to detect a larger area. When the prey is too close to its mouth, the cat might not be able to see it because they have a poor close-range vision. The whiskers located on the muzzle form a basket-like shape around the prey and the cat can detect exactly where it is and its slightest movement.
The whiskers above a cat’s eyebrows provide sensory feedback and also protect the eyes. They enable the cat to detect objects around their head and avoid them. They also protect the eyes by catching tiny debris before they get into the eyes. During the night, the cat’s whiskers can feel around in the darkness, the same way we do with our fingertips. This allows it to identify dangerous objects and avoid them.
When moving around, a cat uses its whiskers to determine if an opening is big enough for it to go through. The width of the whiskers is usually the same as that of the cat. The whiskers can also detect changes in air currents, which enable the cat to detect any approaching danger.
The Process of Whisker Growth
Unlike fur, cat whiskers are thicker and embedded deep under the skin. They are surrounded by tough bags containing nerves and blood vessels. During the development of a cat embryo, whiskers and pigment cells are formed in the same skin layer. This means that whiskers have no access to the melanin pigment, which is why they are mostly white despite the colour of a cat’s fur.
A whisker starts forming at the root as a single ring of skin cells. Later, another ring of skin cells forms, pushing the previous ring towards the surface of the cat’s skin. This repeats itself until concentric rings of skin cells are developed, which become the origin of a whisker. With time, new ring cells grow and keep pushing the cone of cells upwards. As this happens, the tissue surrounding the skin cells squeezes the cone of cells inwards, resulting in their death. Finally, the cone appears from the skin as what we call whisker. In simpler terms, whiskers are made of dead skin.
After growing to their full length, they stay like that for the rest of the cat’s life. That is unless someone trims them. They do not get longer with age. If they fall out, it takes about two weeks for them to grow to their full length again. What happens is that in very few cases, they might turn grey as the cat ages. This is quite normal and should not get you worried.
How does a whisker work? Well, it has a sensory organ at the end that’s called proprioceptor. The proprioceptor relays signals to the nervous system and the brain. It informs the cat on the position of its limbs and body. The sensory organ is so strong that it can detect the slightest changes in the environment, including in the air.
Causes of Loss of Whiskers:
There are several reasons which can lead to the loss of whiskers in cats. Other than natural shedding, all the other ways in which they lose them should be prevented. For instance, getting trimmed or cut. If your cat has lost its whiskers or fur, you should take it to the veterinary for a checkup. Whiskers fall out and grow back in different periods. Therefore, your cat should not have so many whiskers missing at a go. If this happens, you should consider finding the reason behind it.
To begin with, a cat can lose its whiskers when fighting with another cat. If the other cat scratches its face where the whiskers are, they can fall out. This can be solved by cat-proofing your home to keep away strange cats that harm your pet. If a cat is infested with mite, the result is sore and irritated skin that might lead to loss of whiskers in the affected areas.
Loss of whiskers is also caused by some feline health conditions such as Dermatitis, Alopecia, and Feline acne. Alopecia causes systemic and large-scale loss of hairs including whiskers. You can confirm the disease if your cat loses both fur and whiskers. Just like Alopecia, Dermatitis is an allergenic skin condition that also leads to the loss of fur and whiskers. Feline acne, on the other hand, can lead to loss of whisker if the affected area is around the whiskers.
Fungal infections like ringworm result in round patches of lost hair, including the whiskers at times. There are also bacterial infections that also make whiskers fall out, especially if the infection affects the face or is systemic. Another reason is hypothyroidism –an immune-mediated and hormonal disorder that causes the loss of whiskers and alters the texture of the ones that re-grow.
Why Cat Whiskers Should Never Be Trimmed
Cat whiskers should never be trimmed, groomed, or even cut. They might be all long and curly, but they should not be straightened either. The whiskers usually shed naturally in their own time then grow back on their own, so let them be. Cats rely heavily on tactile communication for survival. Without whiskers, cats become frightened and disoriented. It alters their ability to sense things around them and navigate the environment. The cat will feel disoriented because the whiskers have nerve endings connecting to the brain, which send information about the environment.
Lack of knowledge of the surrounding area makes the cat scared. Remember that they are territorial animals who want to feel that they are in control by knowing about their surroundings. A cat without whiskers will have difficulty in movement. Due to disorientation, it will struggle to maintain balance, walk straight, leap in time, and land correctly. That’s because the whiskers won’t be there to inform them of their position in relation to the ground to help in calculating steps and judging distances.
Without whiskers, a cat will also be poor in hunting. It will also lose its athletic abilities such as being able to scan the prey from far and make carefully calculated steps. Trimming a cat’s whiskers will put it in danger. For instance, she might stumble on objects at night since she cannot feel them, and end up getting injured. Solid particles will be able to get into their eyes because the whiskers are not present to trap them.
Whiskers play a key role in the survival of cats. Despite being able to grow back, they should not be cut since this can cause a lot of harm to the cat.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.