Whiskers in Cats and Dogs

Whiskers in cats and dogs are an extension of their sensory organs. They are strands of hair that help an animal identify things that are not visible to the naked eye. Whiskers are that secret trick that lets them walk at night so seamlessly. If you notice them carefully, they can even become the superpower that can help you predict a cat's mood. Sadly, many pet parents still do not understand its importance and believe in chopping them off for a neater look, but it only affects the animal negatively. Hence, it is crucial to acquire knowledge as to why cats and dogs have whiskers? Or How do dogs and cats use their whiskers?

What are Whiskers?

Whiskers are functional hair that helps an animal interact with the environment, and these are stiffer compared to the remaining body hair, also called Sinus hair or Vibrissae. Even the roots of the Latin word Vibrio suggest 'to vibrate.'

Where is it located?

In dogs, it is generally located at the muzzle, above the eyes, beneath the chin, or underside of the lower leg. In cats, the growth is even; it grows symmetrically for them, like above the eyes, on the chin, on the forelegs, near the ears, and above the upper lip.

Let us now try to know how do dogs and cats use their Whiskers?

How many times has your little one bumped into a transparent glass just because they could not see it, right?

Dogs and cats are masters of hearing sense organs, but they lack visual senses. Of course, for the efficient functioning of the body and mind in synchronisation, every sense is imperative. Whiskers aid dogs and cats to compensate for the visual and touch sensors.

 For example:

  1. Animals use their whiskers to detect if there is any creature nearby.
  2. Whiskers help determine whether animals can squeeze through small spaces or not.
  3. Whiskers are so sensitive to touch that they can even detect a change in the air currents, and the change in speed helps them detect the movement and position of the prey.

It is comparable to human fingertips. As your fingertips help determine the hotness of the milkshake, similarly whiskers help detect a change in the temperature, so it becomes easier for them to function and not get hurt.

For our cats, whiskers are their inbuilt GPS and radar systems.

"They are a powerful and important part of how a cat senses the world," says W. Mark Cousins, DVM, the founder of a vet clinic in New Orleans.

  1. Whiskers help your cat to jump purr-perfectly every time. No matter where they jump, they are always on their two legs.
  2. Whiskers provide your cat with body balancers, which are special sensory organs, Proprioceptors; give messages to the brain whatever part of the body is doing.

All these works are so seamless that there is no time to doubt the messages provided by whiskers. The information provided by whiskers is so reliable that 40% of brain sensory information is devoted to it. The brain aligns with those parts of the body that have whiskers.

Whiskers do not send empty messages to your cat or dog's brain. The strand of the whisker showcases different movements on being in contact with different situations and environments.

For example,

For dogs :

  1. It starts vibrating if the transmission is of the shape and texture of the surface of the object.
  2. It starts tweaking, rowing back and forth when there is a change in air current to interact with the environment.

For cats :

 It helps in communicating emotions; whiskers act as a messenger of their moods :

  1. When whiskers completely freeze, it suggests that the cat is resting or content.
  2. When a cat elevates its whiskers above its eyes, it suggests happy or curious emotion.
  3. When a cat is threatened by something, it pulls the whiskers on its muzzle taut, flares them and directs them toward the threat.
  4. What happens when you cut a cat or dog's whiskers?

Whiskers grow from follicles that are three times deeper into the skin than their normal hair, and they are attached to bundles of nerves at the base. So pulling them out is going to be painful.

Since nerve endings are attached to these whiskers, their removal affects their brain functioning. Each whisker finds its root in a special nerve ending in the brain, so it is said that if you get the whisker cut or pulled out, the dog is almost blindfolded or lame for that period.

Can their whiskers grow back?

A dog or a cat can easily grow back a Whisker, but why would you want your dog or cat to be senseless even for a brief period? So there is no point in cutting their whiskers in the first place.

Whiskers are the sixth sense that animals boast of having. These help blind dogs and cats to locate various places without banging their heads. Like another organ, like their face, hands, legs, and tail, these whiskers are equally important to cats and dogs. Avoid cutting whiskers; seek a groomer or an expert through pet stores online, who will guide you to know all the dos and don'ts when you are taking care of your pet by yourself.

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