Specialized cat hair
MetPet.com Staff Writer
Whiskers, the very thick long hairs found on the cat's face and wrists are
primarily used to provide sensory information. They are also known as vibrissae
or tactile hairs and are 2-3 times thicker and rooted 3 times deeper than
There are usually 24 whiskers, located in sets of 12, on both sides of the
cat's face above his mouth and below his nose. They are set into an
elevated 'pad' in a sensory rich (lots of nerves and blood vessels) area in
order to provide information about the cat's environment and prey.
Unlike regular hair, the end of the whisker is rooted in a follicle encased
in a capsule of blood known as a blood sinus. When the visible end of
the whisker is moved, say by a breeze, the encased end pushes the blood
against the sinus causing a wealth of information to be sent to the brain.
There are also whiskers above the eye, on the chin and the backs of the
front legs. Since they are so lightweight and sensitive, they can help
the cat navigate through his environment or sense a change in it such as
It is thought that the whiskers are wider than the cat's head so that,
provided the whiskers pass through an opening, the cat's head and body will
also. A cat deprived of its full whisker length is deprived of
important sensory information. If a cat gets quite fat and resembles a
barrel, at least some of those whiskers will grow longer in response to the
Unfortunately every now and then a cat will get
stuck in a doggy door and make the evening news. Whiskers are either
providing misinformation or the cat isn't paying attention.
Whiskers provide lots of information to a cat so, even though they will fall
out from time to time, they shouldn't be cut or handled roughly.
Whiskers can also be used to express emotion or will move in response to
emotion. Whiskers pulled back can indicate fear or anger.