Where Do Cats Have Whiskers?

It’s common knowledge that cats have whiskers on their muzzles, but not everyone knows that cats have whiskers in other locations throughout their bodies. Cat whiskers serve a variety of functions, and whiskers in different locations are used for different tasks.

Cats have whiskers on their muzzles and chins, above their upper lips, above their eyes, by their ears, and on their forelegs. Whiskers are a type of hair, but they are much thicker, and their follicles are filled with nerves. This means that whiskers are extra sensitive, and help cats navigate their environment more accurately.

Whiskers are a unique organs that allow cats to interact with the world, but there’s a lot more to whiskers than you might think! Read on to learn how your cat’s whiskers help them navigate the world depending on where they’re located!

An orange tabby's reflection in a window.
Whiskers help cats navigate their environment more accurately. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

What Are Whiskers?

Whiskers are a special kind of hair that is extra thick. The follicle where whiskers grow is also filled with nerves and blood vessels, making them extra sensitive. While the whiskers themselves don’t have any nerves, even slight vibrations like air flow will travel to the base of the follicle, giving cats sensory input about their environment.

While whiskers are similar to fur, they are actually considered sensory organs, and are very different from regular hair. There is a special set of muscles located at the base of each whisker, allowing them to move independently for better sensory exploration. Furthermore, whisker follicles go much deeper than regular hair follicles.

Whiskers are an essential way that cats navigate the world around them. During shedding, cats will usually lose a couple of whiskers at a time, but they are eventually replaced by new ones. Whiskers don’t have pain receptors, but you should never cut or trim your cat’s whiskers. Not only will this make it much more difficult for your cat to navigate its environment, but it can also do secondary damage to the whisker follicle.

Whiskers on a Cat’s Muzzle, Chin, and Upper Lip

The most well known locations for cat whiskers are on the muzzle, chin, and upper lip. These whiskers are extra helpful when it comes to hunting prey, and they don’t just serve one purpose!

The movements of predators and prey affect air flow around your cat. Your cat’s whiskers vibrate more or less depending on the amount of air flow, allowing cats to detect even the tiniest changes. This can help cats locate prey or even predators that might be trying to hunt them down.

While cats’ eyes are great for seeing far away, they unfortunately can’t see very well up close. This is where their whiskers can also come in handy. While your cat is hunting, its whiskers can help your cat locate prey that is close to its face, so it can accurately lunge for the kill.

Whiskers on a cat’s muzzle, chin, and upper lip all serve as an extra set of eyes during the night, as well. Even though cats are famous for being able to see better in low light than we humans, their whiskers also do a lot of work in helping them navigate the world when it’s dark.

The whiskers on cats helps them to decide if they can safely pass through narrow openings.  Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.
The whiskers on cats helps them to decide if they can safely pass through narrow openings. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

Finally, a cat’s facial whiskers also serve as handy measuring devices. The whiskers on a cat’s muzzle are approximately the same width as your cat’s body. Cats can use their whiskers to determine whether a narrow space will be wide enough for them to crawl into! (Related: Why Do Cats Love Boxes?)

This is another reason why obesity in cats can be a cause for concern; if your cat becomes wider than its whiskers, then it might end up getting stuck in narrow spaces.

Whiskers Near a Cat’s Eyes and Ears

Cats also have sets of whiskers above their eyes and near their ears. These whiskers serve as an extra sense so your cat can protect its eyes. If the whiskers on the top of its head are disturbed, the cat will be aware that something could land on its face. As a result, if those whiskers are disturbed, cats will close their eyes to protect them from any potential dangers.

Like the whiskers on a cat’s muzzle, chin, and upper lip, the whiskers near a cat’s eyes and ears also improve a cat’s hunting abilities, and help them to navigate better in the dark.

Whiskers on a Cat’s Forelegs

All other whiskers are located on a cat’s face, but they also have special whiskers located on their legs. These whiskers are known as carpal whiskers, and are located on the back of a cat’s wrists. Carpal whiskers are only found on a cat’s forelegs, rather than their hind legs.

While this may seem like an unusual place to have whiskers, they’re actually incredibly important for your cat’s hunting abilities. This is because only their forelegs are used for hunting and grabbing prey, while the hind legs are used to kick at the prey once it’s caught.

The whiskers on a cat’s forelegs, also known as carpal whiskers, can sense changes in airflow and even the texture of a surface! If your cat lunges towards a mouse, bird, or some other form of prey, its carpal whiskers can help in tricky situations. If a cat’s prey manages to escape, its carpal whiskers can sense the location and direction of the prey.

Final Thoughts

Cats have whiskers located on their muzzles, chins, upper lips, ears, eyes, and forelegs. These special kinds of hair are used to sense minute vibrations, changes in air flow, and even texture. They serve as an extra way for your cat to experience the world, and are essential for hunting, escaping from predators, and even fitting into small spaces.

Whiskers don’t have pain receptors, but they are vital for a cat’s ability to “see” the world around them, and as such, they should never be cut, trimmed, or damaged in any way. Cats without whiskers will feel disoriented and may have trouble playing, exploring, and much more.

References

Buzhardt, L. (n.d.). Why do cats have whiskers? VCA. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/why-do-cats-have-whiskers

Ehrenlechner, S., & Unshelm, J. (1997). Whisker trimming by mother cats. Applied Animal Behaviour Science52(3-4), 381-385. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0168-1591(96)01137-9

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