Whiskers serve an extremely important role in the life of a cat. Under no circumstances should they be trimmed or removed otherwise the health of your feline friend may be in jeopardy. Evolution has afforded them a unique and interesting way to navigate as a nocturnal predator.
Whiskers, also referred to as tactile hairs or vibrissae, are most noticeable on the cat's upper lip and eyebrow region. The roots of the whiskers extend deep into follicles and contain massive nerve endings allowing them to be sensitive enough to detect wind speed and the slightest differences in air pressure. The whiskers exist in horizontal rows and extend out matching the width of the cat's body.
Messages are relayed via vibrations in the whiskers as a result of changes in air pressure, the touch of objects around them, and the detection of wind speed. They provide protection for the eyes by initiating a blinking response if debris comes too close to the face and is detected by the whiskers. Whiskers serve as additional aids to the other senses such as sight and smell and will either heighten them or increase the detail and accuracy.
As nocturnal predators it was necessary for cats to develop a method by which to aid them in navigation around objects, in between objects, and movement of potential prey in dim lighting or complete darkness. Cat whiskers are 2 to 3 times thicker than the cat's hair and act as feelers allowing the cat to determine whether or not he will be able to fit through a particular opening.
Trimming the whiskers will disorient the cat and could possibly cause them harm since they lose an important ability to detect the size, shape, and nature of obstacles surrounding them. Thus their movement becomes impaired and they are not as agile. Washing the whiskers is also discouraged.
The cat's whiskers can also serve as mood indicators though it is not their primary purpose. A cat with whiskers pulled back tends to express anger, agitation, or defensiveness. Whiskers pushed forward indicate a relaxed, content, and happy animal.
Whiskers are extremely important to your feline's health. They aid them in navigation and orientation, serve as protective structures for the eyes, and signify a feline's mood. Nature has developed a seemingly simplistic structure that houses a very important function for your cat. Therefore, the health of your cat's whiskers is much more important than you may have imagined.