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The whiskers are essential to the cat’s daily life. But what are they used for? Can – or even should – you cut your cat’s whiskers?
The answer is clear: you should never cut off your cat’s whiskers, even if they will grow back. They are essential to your cat’s development, so that he won’t hurt himself in his environment.
In this article, we will see what the cat’s whiskers are used for, and especially why you should not cut them.
What Are Cat’s Whiskers?
Whiskers, also called vibrissae, are long, hard hairs, 3 times thicker than other hairs, and are found in different places on the animal’s body: around the muzzle, above the eyes, on the chin, but also on the back of the forelegs, just above the pads.
As with other hairs, each vibrisis originates in a hair follicle present in the thickness of the skin, which is larger, and also much more innervated and vascularized than the other follicles.
This is what gives whiskers exceptional sensitivity to objects or obstacles surrounding the cat, to variations in atmospheric pressure and to vibrations.
How Do Cat’s Whiskers Work?
Whiskers are like antennas that the cat will use to better locate itself in space, especially in the dark.
As Lynn Buzhardt, DVM, points out on vcahospitals.com, whiskers don’t “feel” anything on their own. They only transmit information to the sensory cells in the follicle.
When they touch an object or when an object moves near them, they vibrate and stimulate these cells.
This is why they are called “vibrissae”, that comes from the Latin “vibrio”, which means “that vibrates”.
What Are the Cat’s Whiskers For?
They Help Him to Appreciate his Environment
When the cat needs to sneak somewhere, the vibrations will indicate if he can risk it, the width of the whiskers corresponding to the width of the cat’s body.
Be careful, this is not valid if your cat is overweight! The vibes on the eyebrows will detect the presence of an obstacle (a tree branch for example) and the cat will close his eyes to avoid injury.
They Help Him to Capture his Preys
These antennas are therefore very useful for a hunter, at night moreover, who needs to remain as discreet as possible.
The vibrissae at the back of the legs are characteristic of climbing and jumping animals.
Since cats have rather poor near vision, they are also used to better judge the state of a prey: is it dead? Is it trying to run away? Should it be bitten in the neck again?
They Indicate his Mood
Vibrissae also play a role in body language. If your tomcat is pointing them backwards, he’s defensive or worried; if he’s pointing them forwards, the little feline is curious, he’s in exploratory mode.
When your cat is scared, his whiskers will be pointing down to the face.
When relaxed, the cat’s whiskers will also be relaxed and will fall slightly.
What Happens If You Cut your Cat’s Whiskers?
As mentioned above, the whiskers are used by your cat to help him find his way. If you cut them off, your pet will be completely confused and disoriented for a while.
And awkward at the same time, because he will lose his bearings.
He won’t dare to move around freely and snoop around as cats love to do.
He will no longer jump for fear of not being able to land properly.
Does Cutting a Cat’s Whiskers Hurt?
The cat won’t feel anything if you cut his whiskers, because they don’t contain nerves (just like hair…).
On the other hand, pulling off the whiskers will hurt him very much, because the follicles at their base contain many nerves.
Do Cat Whiskers Grow Back Naturally?
The cat’s vibrissae fall naturally because, like hair or eyelashes, they renew themselves; however, the cycle of growth and regrowth is longer, because their size and diameter are greater.
It usually takes a few weeks for the whiskers to grow back completely.
Cats start to lose their whiskers at a very young age: from about 11 weeks old.
A cat that is not in good health loses not only his hair, but also his vibrissae. Worry if your cat no longer has his beautiful whiskers around his mouth and muzzle.
Similarly, if you notice that your growing kitten‘s whiskers are not growing at the rate they should, it may be that she is not being fed properly and is not getting all the nutrients she needs.
Do not hesitate to consult your veterinarian to understand the problem and to bring the adequate solution.
Can I Sue Someone Who Intentionally Cut Off my Cat’s Whiskers?
In theory, yes you can, but think carefully about these points before making a decision:
- You will have to prove that the person really cut off your cat’s whiskers. Even if you are sure that a certain person did it (your neighbor for example), you will have to produce tangible proof, which will be far from easy. Especially if the facts happened somewhere other than your home (in the neighbor’s garden for example).
- Your cat’s whiskers will grow back naturally. By the time you wait for the trial to take place, your cat will probably have regained his long and beautiful whiskers. You may look ridiculous by showing your cat to the judge!
So, unless you have solid proof or if your cat has been injured more severely, I don’t think it’s worth taking legal action.
Can Cutting Off a Cat’s Whiskers Be Considered Cruelty to an Animal?
If it is a gratuitous and voluntary act done knowingly, yes it can be considered cruelty to an animal.
If the person committed the act with the intention of doing the right thing, I would say that it is rather stupidity and ignorance…
What Should I Do If my Cat Ends Up with his Whiskers Cut Off?
Keep him at home until his whiskers grow back. This will protect him from predators and make him feel more comfortable.
A cat without his whiskers may feel vulnerable because he can no longer “feel” his environment. Indoor he will feel safer.
Will my Cat Lose his Balance If I Cut Off his Whiskers?
No, your cat will not lose his balance if you cut off his beautiful whiskers.
The cat’s balance is ensured by his inner ear, just like in humans.
Whiskers are sensory organs that are only used to detect objects around them.
What Should I Do If my Cat’s Whiskers Are Stressed?
Again, don’t cut them off! Stress or fatigue can occur when a very sensitive area such as the whiskers are over-stimulated, for example when your cat drinks or eats and his whiskers are constantly touching water or food.
In this case, your cat will tend to take the food out of its bowl and eat it directly on the floor.
The solution? Opt for a bowl specially designed to fight against whiskers fatigue like the Dr. Catsby Cat Food Bowl. Its edges are designed not to touch your cat’s whiskers when he drinks, and its design ensures that your cat doesn’t lose a crumb of his food.
In Summary: Never Cut Off your Cat’s Whiskers!
Tell yourself that if Mother Nature gave cats whiskers, it is because she had good reasons to do so. So why deprive them of them?
Imagine if your eyes were removed? Of course you could live, but you would feel isolated and in danger for a long period of time, before adapting to your new situation?
On the other hand, whiskers fall off naturally and are replaced by others, so they are not likely to be “too long”.
Once again, let nature take its course! And your cat knows better than you how to take care of his pretty vibrissae, he will not hesitate to lick them lovingly so that they are 100% functional!
And if you find one of your cat’s whiskers on the floor, make a wish: they say it brings good luck!