Why Do Cats Have Whiskers?

Have you ever wondered why some of your cat’s facial hairs are longer than the rest? There has to be a reason, after all, since nature is too smart to give cats useless whiskers. Basically, whiskers are cats’ sensory equipment that guides them through their daily lives. This means these long hairs facilitate their vision and help them navigate their environment, just like antennae on insects.

 

Tabby kitten sat on the breakfast table looking up

Getty Images / DigitalVision / Sally Anscombe

 

Cats have 24 whiskers, symmetrically placed on their muzzles, that work as vibration sensors. Whiskers are extremely sensitive hairs that vibrate when air flows or an object brushes up against them. This vibration stimulates the nerves in the cat’s hair follicle, transmitting information about the size, shape, and speed of nearby objects. And since cats can’t easily see objects closer than 30cm from them, whiskers are great to help them always be protected.

 

In fact, we all know cats always land on their feet, but how is this possible? One of the reasons is the special sensory organs located at the ends of their whiskers. These organs send messages to their brains about the position of their bodies and limbs, keeping them aware of what each part of their bodies is doing. This is also why they always know if they can fit into a tight space: their whiskers work as a measuring tape that calculates the size of objects and define if their body would fit there.