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How Many Whiskers Does a Cat Have? 

Jessica Kim

By Jessica Kim

a close up of an orange tabby cat

Whiskers aren’t just adorable facial features on your cat. They actually serve several functions to help a cat survive and navigate daily life.

Most cats have a total of 24 whiskers, but this number can change depending on breed. Here’s everything you need to know about these fascinating facial features.

What’s the Average Number of Whiskers a Cat Has?

On average, cats have 12 whiskers arranged in four rows on each cheek. However, whiskers aren’t just located on their cheeks. They also grow above a cat’s eyes and on their front paws. You can find six to eight whiskers growing in each of these areas. So, in total, a cat can have between 48 to 56 whiskers.

bengal cat lying on the floor
Image Credit: lshman000, Pixabay

What Are Whiskers?

Whiskers are different from the rest of a cat’s fur. They’re thicker and the roots are planted deeper in the skin than regular cat hair. They’re also coarser and more durable, and they’re more sensitive because they’re in spots with a lot of nerves and blood vessels.

For cats, whiskers are another part of the body that functions as a sense of touch. They’re just as sensitive as a human’s fingertips.

The Purpose of Whiskers

Cats use their whiskers for several different purposes. They rely on these special hairs for day-to-day functioning and safely moving from space to space.

a tabby cat lying on the floor
Image Credit: Inge Wallumrød, Pexels

Reflexes

Every whisker is connected to a proprioceptor, which is a sensory receptor that communicates with the brain. The proprioceptor’s connection to the brain enables a cat to be extremely aware of its body and movements. It’s responsible for the cat’s notorious quick reflexes. If it weren’t for whiskers, cats wouldn’t be able to land on their feet.

Contrary to popular belief, cats don’t heavily rely on their whiskers to stay balanced. As with most mammals, cats have ear fluid that helps them maintain their balance. Therefore, missing whiskers won’t necessarily make a cat unable to walk.

Spatial Recognition

Cats use their whiskers like how humans use rulers. The space that a cat’s cheek whiskers take up is approximately the same size as the cat’s body.

You might notice a cat poking its head in and out of a hole. This behavior indicates that the cat’s using its whiskers to determine if it can fit inside the space.

When a cat approaches an opening, the whiskers will feel around to determine if the area is big enough for the cat to fit inside. If the whiskers can’t fit without bending, it’ll deter a cat from entering.

a cat poking out its head on a hole of wooden gate
Image Credit: Cerrotalavan, Shutterstock

Protection

The whiskers themselves don’t have nerves in them, but they’re rooted in sensitive spots. Therefore, when dust and debris land on the whiskers, cats will immediately shake their face to get rid of the particles. They’ll also know that the area isn’t safe for their eyes and will likely avoid moving forward.

The sensitive placements of the whiskers can protect cats from entering dangerous areas that can damage their eyes. If there are any obstructions in the way, the whiskers will feel them first, and the cat can avoid these obstacles and protect its eyes.

Feel Vibrations

Cats have an excellent far-sighted vision, but they’re not very good at seeing things close up. Therefore, they rely on their whiskers to compensate for their weak near-sighted vision.

Whiskers can send air currents that bounce back when they hit a solid object. This ability helps cats to navigate dark spaces and avoid bumping into objects.

The whiskers on a cat’s paws can also feel vibrations, which becomes helpful when prey is nearby. A cat may not be able to capture the prey within its field of vision, but the prey will have a challenging time bypassing the cat’s sensitive paw whiskers.

cat hunting prey from the bushes at night
Image Credit: Paul W Thompson, Shutterstock

Express Emotions

Whiskers also move according to a cat’s feelings. For example, when the whiskers are in a relaxed state, they reflect the cat’s relaxed mood. If they’re straight and pointing out, it indicates that the cat’s feeling alert or curious. When cats become irritated or angry, they’ll pull their whiskers back against their face.

Should I Trim My Cat’s Whiskers?

Whiskers will naturally fall out from time to time. This occurrence isn’t anything to worry about, and they’ll usually grow back. However, it’s best not to trim a cat’s whiskers intentionally.

Whiskers serve essential functions, so altering them can cause a lot of changes that your cat must get used to navigating. Your cat may have difficulty with spatial recognition and may act clumsier or have slower reaction times.

Cats are curious and stealthy by nature, and a lot of it has to do with their whiskers. Therefore, altering these whiskers can cause stress for cats because they won’t be able to do the usual cat-like things that they’re used to doing so effortlessly.

Conclusion

Whiskers are small and unassuming, but they serve an important role in a cat’s life. You might’ve just thought that they were cute facial features, but now you know that they’re very purposefully placed.

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Featured Image Credit: Sam Chang, Unsplash

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