Why do cats have whiskers above their eyes?

Updated at 09 Nov 2022

Cats are mammals like us, only with fur. There are differences in how hair/fur is distributed on our bodies.

Cat face in profile

First, people tend to have more hair on their heads (except for those who are going bald) than on their arms or legs. However, cats have a fairly even distribution of hair throughout their bodies.

Some cat breeds, such as Persians and Maine Coons, are the same length, but our hair grows longer on our heads than anywhere else. Finally, although we may have whiskers on our faces, they are not as important as a cat's whiskers.

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What is a whisker?

Whiskers are not like other hairs. They stand out on the cat's skin. Whiskers are thicker and coarser than regular hair, and their roots are three times longer.

Whiskers don't cover the entire body like regular hairs. They are located above the eyes, on the front paws, and near the ears. Correctly call them vibrissae.

Although the exact location and pattern of whiskers will vary by breed, most cats have twelve whiskers. They are placed in four rows on each cheek.

Whiskers are more sensitive to heat than regular hairs because their follicles are full of nerves and blood vessels. Whiskers can be as sensitive as the fingertips of a human. A cat's senses of touch are in his face, and a humans is in his fingers.

Whiskers are not just interesting facial features.

Whiskers frame the eyes and highlight the muzzle. They have an essential function. Whiskers are specialized sensory equipment that guides a cat through his daily activities.

Head of a brown and white cat close-up with whiskers

These hairs help the cat to see and navigate better, providing additional sensitivity, like antennae in insects. Mustaches are sometimes referred to as "tactile." When they sense objects or movement, they transmit information to sensory neurons.

The sensitive hair vibrates when air or an object touches it. This stimulates the nerves of the hair follicle. This vibration is what gives whiskers their scientific title, vibrissae. It comes from the Latin vibrio meaning "to vibrate."

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Whiskers are used for balance.

Interestingly, cats have additional sense organs called "proprioceptors" located at the ends of their whiskers. Proprioceptors relay information directly to the brain and report on the position and movement of the body and limbs in space relative to surrounding objects, height, width, and so on.

Thanks to this organ, cats almost always land on the ground on all four paws without hurting themselves, and they also never hit corners; they understand where they can climb and where they can't.

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Radar sensors are whiskers

Striped cat with closed eyes close-up

Cats are well-known for their sense of smell and hearing. However, feline vision is less impressive.

Cats see poorly at close range; it is easier for them to focus their eyes on objects at a distance. Whiskers aid cats in "seeing" objects right under their noses by continuously sending information to their brain.

When a cat is near an object, he creates air currents that bounce back when they strike solid objects. These changes in air currents cause whiskers to detect faint vibrations, and they act as detectors.

Whiskers alert cats to potential predators or enemies in the wild. Whiskers are used to help domestic cats find their favorite toys or food bowls at night. Whisker radar is a way for cats to find food and avoid bumping into walls at night.

Whiskers convey emotions

Whiskers are at rest when the cat is resting and relaxed. If the cat is active, then its whiskers are also active. If the cat is curious, the whiskers seem to rise above the eyes.

It gives him that charming wide-eyed look that we love so much. When a cat feels threatened, it pulls on its whiskers and waves them and then directs them to the source of the threat.

Whiskers are protectors

The smallest particles can trigger these sensitive hairs to respond. A tiny dust particle can cause a cat to blink or shake his head to throw it away.

Striped cat lies on its back and looks at the camera

His eye can be damaged by even a small dust particle. This reaction protects him. If the whiskers of a cat's nose come in contact with a peaky blade or thorny shrub, it will prompt it to move back to protect its eyes.

Whiskers are a lifesaver! Whiskers prevent cats from getting stuck. His whiskers help cats determine whether they can squeeze through narrow spots in fences, between rocks, or between living room chairs. This allows the cat stays out of trouble in many ways!

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Protect whiskers

"Each whisker can be traced back at a particular spot in the brain ..."

Many of the cat's brain is dedicated to processing data from touch sensors. Whiskers can be used as touch sensors. Nearly 40% of the brain's sensory areas correspond to the whiskers.

The whiskers are located in valuable neurological real estate within the feline body. Each whisker can be tracked back to a specific location in the brain.

Because whiskers are essential to cats' safety, we must protect them. Gently touch your cat's whiskers along the grain when you pet them.

Do not pull or pluck the whiskers. Avoid cutting your cat's whiskers when grooming him. This can reduce his awareness and cause confusion.

Make sure your cat doesn't touch the sides of food or water dishes. Repeated contact with the dishes can send unneeded messages to his brain and cause him to become overwhelmed.

Whiskers can be both functional and cute - how versatile!

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