The question of whether a cat's whiskers will regrow is posed quite frequently on the Internet -- often by adults desperate to find out of if the scissor-yielding activities of their children, niece or nephew as applied to Kitty's face is going to cause permanent damage.
Kitty's Guidance System
Whiskers play a critical role in helping cats navigate their surroundings. This is particularly true at night, Vetstreet explains, noting the primary function of whiskers is to aid with vision -- especially in the dark. Even though cat's are known for their effective ocular abilities in limited light, this capability is supported by whiskers that serve as tactile receptors, sending messages to the brain and central nervous system, according to PetMD.
What is a Whisker?
While a whisker is a form of hair, it is much more advanced than Kitty's standard topcoat. As explained by PetMD, a whisker is a longer, stiffer hair scientifically named a "vibrissae." Its roots go much deeper into Kitty's body than do the roots of the fur covering the rest of her body. These "vibrissae" are connected directly to the muscular and central nervous systems.
How a Whisker Works
While considered a tactile hair, the whisker actually does not do the feeling or sensing itself. As explained by Vetstreet, the whisker does its job by vibrating when objects touch it. This vibration stimulates the nerve endings in the hair follicle, which in turn sends the message on to the appropriate part of the brain for processing. A whisker acts somewhat like an antenna, giving your feline friend a heightened sense of her surroundings, according to PetMD.
Best Not to Cut
It's awfully tempting to do so -- especially if Kitty has unruly whiskers -- but it's also best for your feline friend to refrain. It's not because the whiskers won't grow back. They will. That's because the key physical ingredient of a whisker -- keratin -- regenerates itself in the whisker just as it does in human fingernails and hair. However, cutting a cat's whiskers can throw off her balance and navigational abilities, according to Vetstreet.
Shedding Does Occur
It isn't uncommon for a cat to shed a whisker or two during its life. This isn't something to panic about. However, as advised by Petside, if you notice that your feline friend is missing several whiskers, it's time to consult your veterinarian. The loss of several whiskers indicates a vitamin or mineral deficiency. If Kitty's whiskers are broken or appear to have split ends, this is also a cause for medical concern to be evaluated by a professional.
Amy M. Armstrong is a former community news journalist with more than 15 years of experience writing features and covering school districts. She has received more than 40 awards for excellence in journalism and photography. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Washington State University. Armstrong grew up on a dairy farm in western Washington and wrote agricultural news while in college.