2001-Tue Dec 06 05:14:29 MST 2016
Vetstreet. All rights reserved.
Vetstreet does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See Additional Information ›
Although cats and
dogs clearly relish cleaning morsels of food off their whiskers, the
long hairs have other purposes, from sensing things close to their face to communication.
When it comes to
pet hair, whiskers are longer, thicker and more rigid, as well as more deeply embedded in the skin. Each whisker is rooted in a hair follicle that's filled with blood vessels and nerves. And like other hairs, whiskers will occasionally fall out and grow back.
Most cats have 12 whiskers that are arranged in four rows on either cheek, but the whisker pattern in dogs is more varied. Whiskers can also sprout above the eyes, as well as under the chin. Cats can also grow whiskers behind their wrists.
The primary function of whiskers is to aid with
vision, especially in the dark, by
providing additional sensory information — much like antennae on other creatures.
Although it's often called “tactile hair,” the whisker itself cannot feel anything. Instead, objects that brush up against a whisker cause it to vibrate, which then stimulates the nerves in the hair follicle. This explains why the scientific name for whiskers is
vibrissae, which derives from the Latin word,
vibrio, meaning “to vibrate.”
Cats use their
facial whiskers to determine if they can fit into narrow spaces, and the whiskers on their legs may aid them in
sensing prey or climbing trees.
Whiskers serve a similar purpose in dogs: Nearly 40 percent of the canine brain can detect when something touches a dog's face, especially the region where the whiskers are located.
Dogs and cats can also sense something even if it doesn’t actually touch a whisker. For example, a pet in a dark room can pick up on the fact that there's a wall nearby because of a change in air currents.
Some whiskers, especially those above the eyes, can also protect a pet from getting poked by long grasses and other objects.
The position of the whiskers can also clue you in to the
mood of an animal. For example, felines may fold their whiskers back to say, “Stay away.”
Although it's an old wives' tale that cutting a pet’s whiskers off will affect his balance, it can compromise his ability to “feel” around his face. In other words, if you’re tempted to
trim those unruly whiskers, it’s best to leave them alone.
More on Vetstreet:
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
Take our breed quiz to find your next pet.
Get all the best pet news and information sent right to your inbox!
Thank you for subscribing!
We combed through 505,270 kitten
names to determine the hottest male
and female monikers of the year.
We scoured our database of 1.1 million
dogs to find out which male and female
monikers reigned supreme this past…
Christmas trees, fatty foods and other
seasonal items may bring cheer to your
home, but they'll cause harm to your…
Dr. Sarah Wooten takes a closer look at
this curious sleeping habit and what it has
to do with canines’ ancestry.
The Kromfohrlander is said to be
descended from a mixed-breed dog
who was a mascot for American troops.
Check out our collection of more than 250 videos about pet training, animal behavior, dog and cat breeds and more.
Wonder which dog or cat best fits your lifestyle? Our new tool will narrow down more than 300 breeds for you.
If the video doesn't start playing momentarily,
please install the latest version of Flash.
Thank you for subscribing.