What Are the Whiskers on the Top of a Cat's Head?

"My eye whiskers communicate important information to my brain."

"My eye whiskers communicate important information to my brain."

Your cat’s whiskers are just as important to her as your eyesight and sense of touch are to you. Far from being just a decorative body part, they give her needed information for her activities in your house, outdoors, at night and during the day.

Those Whiskers

Your kitty’s whiskers are longer and thicker than the hair on her body. The formal Latin name for this cat part is “vibrissa” for one whisker and “vibrissae” for the plural form. Your cat sheds her whiskers so new, stronger whiskers can grow back in. The way the whisker pads -- those tiny, indented areas where the whiskers stick out of her fur -- are organized helps your cat protect herself. When your cat is in different moods, look at the layout of her whiskers. When she’s happy and relaxed, they stick straight out. When she’s upset, she pulls them back against her face.

Importance of Cat Whiskers

Each whisker is connected to a blood supply under your kitty’s skin. When something, like air or your finger, makes contact with her whiskers, that connection to the capsule of blood under her skin pushes the blood to one side of that blood sinus. In turn, this sends a signal to the nerves in her face, then to her brain, telling her something is close by -- either something dangerous or your finger. She responds by becoming even more alert so she can protect herself. Your kitty is a nocturnal animal. She loves to hunt, play and wake you up at night. When she’s hunting, even if only play-hunting, she’s completely focused on her prey. Even though she can see better than you can in the dark, she needs her whiskers to alert her to things in her environment that she could miss because of her visual focus on her prey. If, for instance, you have a window opened at night, a breeze may cause a curtain to flutter. As your kitty passes by, the fluttering curtain forces a change in the air current, which alerts the eye whiskers, blood sinuses and nerves that something in the room is moving. She closes her eyes to protect them. These eye whiskers that look like alien antennae are called superciliary whiskers.

Tufts Above the Eyes

You may have noticed your kitty has long “hairs” above her eyes. These are actually whiskers. When these whiskers detect danger, your cat closes her eyes to protect them from possible injury. When she is engaged in hunting her prey, she is completely focused on that mouse, ball or your foot. Her eyebrow whiskers act as a second set of eyes when she’s otherwise occupied.

Whisker Precautions

You may have thought those whiskers on your cat’s body and above her eyes needed trimming. Even though she loses whiskers through shedding, she only loses one or two at a time. Trimming down an entire set of whiskers deprives her of the sensory protection she needs as she moves through her days and nights. It may take as long as three months for those whiskers to grow back, so put the cuticle scissors away and allow your kitty to keep her whiskery appearance.


About the Author

Genevieve Van Wyden began writing in 2007. She has written for “Tu Revista Latina” and owns three blogs. She has worked as a CPS social worker, gaining experience in the mental-health system. Van Wyden earned her Bachelor of Arts in journalism from New Mexico State University in 2006.

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