Why Do Cats Have Whiskers?

cat whiskers
© Photography by Adri/Shutterstock.com

Written by Abdulmumin Akinde

Updated: October 15, 2022

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Whiskers are one of the most noticeable features on a cat’s face. But what do cat whiskers do? The truth is, most people don’t give a lot of thought to this question. But we can all agree that a cat without whiskers would be a strange sight.

You should know that the whiskers on your cat’s face are more than just an aesthetic feature. Rather, they are an integral part of your cat’s vital sensory system, which serves various important purposes. In this post, we examine the cat’s whisker more closely to help you see why it is so important.

What Are Whiskers?

Ever wondered what cat whiskers really are? You know they look like hair and erupt from the face like normal hair follicles. However, they do have a slightly different feel and appearance. Whiskers stand out on a cat’s face. They’re also significantly thicker and coarser than regular hair, with their roots growing deeper into the cat’s skin.

Unlike hair that is all over the cat’s body, whiskers are strategically located on the cat’s face alone. Most cats have 12 whiskers arranged in four rows on each side of the face. Although the exact arrangement may vary from one cat species to the other, whiskers are usually found on the chin, above the eyes, above the lip, or near the ears.

handsome cat with blue eyes looking at camera

Most cats have 12 whiskers arranged in four rows on each side of the face.

©Photography by Adri/Shutterstock.com

What Do Cat Whiskers Do?

By design, the whiskers on your cats are quite sensitive because of the purpose they serve. They go deep into the skin and have closely packed nerves and blood vessels near the point of their origin in the skin. This gives them a high level of sensitivity similar to the human fingertips, and they also serve a similar purpose. The following are some things your cat can do with its whiskers.

Sensory Function

A cat’s whiskers might look like it’s just there to enhance its face, but this isn’t the case. In fact, whiskers are pretty advanced features that have been tuned by years of evolution to serve important sensory functions. Your cat relies on this specialized sensory equipment to provide additional sensory input as it navigates its environment.

You can think of it like the antennae on an insect. These specialized hairs on their face add to the abundance of sensory input they get from their sharp eyes and ears. Whiskers are designed to transmit sensory information from the cat’s environment to their brain. This is why they have a lot of nerves and blood vessels around them. The whiskers vibrate in response to airflow, which is why they were given the scientific name vibrissae, which means “to vibrate” in Latin.

The whisker can detect objects or movements around them and send that information to the brain. They’re sensitive to the slightest touch and can detect the most subtle change in hair currents. By interpreting signals from the whiskers, the cat’s brain can receive information about an object’s size, shape, and even speed to help the cat sense the world better and navigate it more efficiently.

Orientation and Body Balance

Cats have proprioceptive ability, thanks to their whiskers. This means they are aware of their body’s orientation relative to the ground, based on how gravity pulls on their whiskers. This is due to the presence of special sensory organs known as proprioceptors found at the ends of the whiskers. These receptors help the cat to stay aware of the position of their body, limbs, and every other part of their body at any given time. The cat’s proprioceptive ability is one reason it can always land on its feet if it falls from a height. Humans do yoga to have this kind of superpower.

Radar Sensors

Cats always seem to be quite aware of everything around them and can react quickly. This is partly because of their amazing sense of smell and hearing, but the whiskers also have something to do with it.

Even though cats have excellent vision, they have difficulty focusing on objects too close to them. The whiskers help solve this problem by enhancing the cat’s ability to feel objects around them (especially those that are close to them).

Cats use whiskers as a sort of radar detector that sends out air currents as they move. The air current then bounces back when it hits a solid object. In addition to helping them see things up close, the whiskers also provide a kind of 360-view, helping cats detect objects that are beyond their regular line of vision.

Cats Use Whiskers To Communicate Emotions

Cats can control the position of the whiskers on their face based on how they’re feeling at the moment. Observant pet parents can watch out for this to read their cat’s emotions. For instance, if your cat is resting and content, the whiskers will be inactive too. Conversely, a curious or excited cat will most likely raise its whiskers. Cats can also pull the whiskers taut and flair them up to detect motion if they feel threatened by anything. This gives them a threatening appearance, but most of all, it helps them anticipate any sudden movement and move out of the way quickly.

Whiskers are Protectors

Since the sensitive whiskers can respond to the slightest whiff of air, it serves an important purpose of protecting your cat from danger. Just like the eyebrows protect the eyes, whiskers can also detect tiny dust and dirt particles in their air. Cats can also use them to detect obstacles or objects in their paths that can poke or scratch their face.

Cats also use whiskers as a sort of measuring tape to determine how wide or narrow a space is. This keeps them from getting into jams. Before putting its body into a space, a cat will try to stick its head in it first. Since the whiskers are positioned around the width of the cat’s body, they can use them to gauge the tightness of a space and determine if they can fit into it or not.

Whiskers Help With Night Vision

Most people wonder how their cat can easily navigate their surroundings at night without bumping into things. In addition to having sensitive eyes that have evolved to use minimal light to see at night, the cat’s whiskers also play an important role in their night vision.

They can use air currents in the room to determine where objects are placed so they can avoid them.

cat with whiskers

Whiskers have many important functions for cats, including orientation, balance, and fitting through tight spaces.



Whiskers give cats a cute appearance. However, they serve an important function as well. The whiskers are vital to the cat’s ability to navigate their environment safely. As a pet parent, now that you know how important the whiskers are to your cat, you should avoid doing anything that can damage it, such as pulling, plucking, or cutting the whiskers. This can affect their sense of awareness and confuse the poor cat.

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About the Author

Abdulmumin is a pharmacist and a top-rated content writer who can pretty much write on anything that can be researched on the internet. However, he particularly enjoys writing about animals, nature, and health. He loves animals, especially horses, and would love to have one someday.

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