We love cats for their adorable whiskers, but what few people know is that these do not have an aesthetic purpose, but one that is so much more complex.
Whiskers may appear to be similar to fur, but they are sensory organs that play an essential role in how cats interact with the environment. Cats have whiskers not only on their heads but also on the back of their front legs.
These are called carpal whiskers and they provide the cat with crucial information about the objects within their grasp and are very important when the cat is hunting.
Here is everything you need to know about a cat’s leg whiskers.
What Are Whiskers and Why Are They Important?
At first glance, whiskers seem like a thicker version of the cat’s fur. Cats have whiskers in the area delimited by their mouths and their noses, on both sides. They also have whiskers above their eyes. These are also known as vibrissae and they are sensory organs specialized in tactile sensing.
Whiskers are also known as vibrissae and they are sensory organs specialized in tactile sensing. They are extremely important because they offer the cat information about the objects it is close to.
To fully understand why this is crucial to the cat, keep in mind that cats must be able to hunt and defend themselves even during the night or in dark places. Even if their sight is impaired, cats must be able to move and hunt and their whiskers offer them the information they need. These small sensory organs act like a cat’s own GPS system.
The whiskers on the cat’s face are much longer than the cat’s fur, even in cats with long coats. However, their length is not arbitrary. The whiskers on both sides of the cat’s mouth cover a distance that is almost equal to the width of the cat.
This is a very important characteristic because cats must be able to have agile movements when they hunt. To do this, they must be able to make fast decisions when it comes to their whereabouts and their movements.
The principle is simple – any space that is at least as wide as the length of their whiskers, from one side to the other is a space where the cat fits. This comes in handy when cats run and have to go into narrow spaces.
By using their whiskers, they can easily determine if a space is too small for them to fit into and this way, they can prevent getting stuck in. This is extremely important when cats hunt.
How Whiskers Work
Whiskers are filled with minute sensory nerve endings that provide information about distance and space. This is how the cat can get a better understanding of the elements in the surrounding environment.
It can use its whiskers to determine if a space is too small or narrow for it to fit inside it, or how far it needs to jump up or down to get to a designated point.
Cats can move their whiskers to get more accurate information about objects. Each whisker has a set of muscles, which support the individual movement of each whisker.
If you want to see whiskers in action, take a look at this video of how a cat’s whiskers move in slow motion. Filming this in slow motion was necessary because the movement is extremely fast, so it’s very easy to miss with the naked eye.
Whiskers Complete the Cat’s Eyesight
Cats have extremely acute eyesight, but this is mainly adapted for far-sight. In fact, cats are not able to see the objects that are located closer than 12 inches to them in great detail.
This is where the whiskers come in. Since cats can’t rely on their keen eyesight for objects that are very close to them, like their prey, they have their whiskers to get more information.
The vibrissae can actually move towards the object to collect very detailed information about it.
Cats that can’t see anymore are perfectly able to move around a room by using their whiskers only. This is possible because these sensory organs are adapted to provide the cat with information about the movement and the location of the objects around it, even when visibility is low or absent.
This adaptation comes from large felines that hunt at night and that must rely on very acute senses to catch their prey.
What Are the Cat’s Leg Whiskers for?
Now that you know the purpose and ability that whiskers have, let’s go into the role of leg whiskers.
These are also known as carpal whiskers because they are located on the underside of the cat’s wrist area. Their role is to provide the cat with information about objects within its grasp, like the cat’s prey.
This is how it happens – When a cat catches its prey, it uses its forelegs to hold it. As mentioned above, cats can’t see objects that are very close to them in great detail. This is why they have their leg whiskers.
These can determine very detailed information about the movement and location of the object that the cat is holding on to. The whiskers have a strong nervous component and send this information to the cat’s brain.
If a cat is holding its prey, it is able to determine very detailed information about the prey’s position and its movement via the leg whiskers.
This is extremely important because it helps the cat act very quickly as a response to the movement of its prey, which helps the cat be a better hunter.
While its forelegs are specialized in grasping the prey, its hind legs are specialized in another part of hunting – killing and disemboweling the prey.
With the information it gets from the carpal whiskers about the position of the prey it is grasping, the cat can use its hind legs to kick and scratch at its prey’s belly area.
Cat owners are extremely familiar with this type of movement of the hind legs, which is also known as pumping. They use their forelegs to immobilize the prey and their hind legs to pump and pump.
You may have seen your pet cat doing this with toys, pillows, or even your arm. While this type of behavior we identify as playing, it actually comes from the cat’s hunting abilities.
Here are a few commonly asked questions about cats’ leg whiskers:
Are whiskers the same as fur?
No, they are not. Even though whiskers appear to be thicker hair follicles, they have a very different structure. Whiskers are sensory organs and they have a very strong nervous component. Moreover, they are also mobile, so each whisker has a set of muscles at the base to permit its movement. Aside from this, whiskers go much deeper into the skin than hair follicles do. While fur goes up to the dermis, whiskers go all the way to the hypodermis.
Do whiskers grow back?
Yes, they do. It takes a much longer time than it does for a cat’s fur to grow back, but whiskers also share the ability to regenerate. In various types of traumas, a cat’s whiskers can be affected – they can get torn, pulled off, burnt – but, in time, they will grow back. So, if your cat loses its whiskers, don’t worry, they will grow back in time.
Why shouldn’t you cut or trim a cat’s whiskers?
Whiskers are not fur, they are sensory organs. They are connected to the nervous and muscular system and when they come into contact with an object, they can detect its proximity, texture, and size. When you cut or even trim the whiskers, you damage these sensory organs and prevent the cat from using them. You shouldn’t trim, cut, pluck, curl, bend, or color a cat’s whiskers.
Does it hurt cats to trim their whiskers?
Like hair, if you cut a cat’s whiskers, it will not feel pain. Even though whiskers are sensory organs, they do not have nociceptors (pain receptors) on their surface, so the cat will not get a pain stimulus if the whiskers are damaged. However, trimming or cutting a cat’s whiskers may result in secondary damage because the cat will have to make do without these sensory organs.
However, if you pluck a cat’s whiskers, it will feel pain because the root of the whiskers does have pain receptors. Just like it hurts when hair is plucked, it also hurts when whiskers are plucked.
But considering that whickers have a much more developed nervous and vascular component and that they are rooted all the way to the hypodermis, the pain that the cat will feel when a whisker is plucked will be far greater than the pain it feels when a hair is plucked. So, don’t pluck your cat’s whiskers because you will be causing it a great deal of pain.
What happens when you cut off a cat’s whiskers?
Cutting off a cat’s whiskers means depriving them of a sensory organ which is very important to them. This will have a number of effects. First, the cat will be exposed to injuries and trauma because it will no longer be able to detect proximity.
They will not be able to move around properly, defend themselves from surrounding objects, and they might get stuck in various openings because they will not be able to detect whether or not they can fit into them.
Secondly, the cat will experience difficulty in movement. It will be disoriented, they will walk slowly and insecurely. Not being able to use their whiskers will also affect their mood. They might become insecure, agitated, and scared.
Depending on how many of the cat’s whiskers are affected, these effects may be barely noticeable or very intense. If the cat still has enough whiskers left that can provide some of the tactile information, then these effects can be noticed at a low intensity.
However, if the most or all of the cat’s whiskers are affected, then the effects will all be present at a high intensity. In time, though, they will grow back and the cat’s sensory abilities will be fully restored with them.
Do cats have whiskers on their back legs?
No, they do not. They have whiskers on the back of their front legs, which provide information about the position of their prey. Their back legs play a different role in the cat’s hunting behavior. They use their hind legs to kick and scratch at their prey to disembowel it.
Do cats have whiskers on their body?
No, they do not have whiskers all over their bodies. Cats have whiskers on their heads – on their whisker pads, located between the corners of the mouths and the outer edges of the nose, and above their eyes, and also on the back of their forelegs.
As you can see, a cat’s whiskers are extremely important because they are sensory organs. A cat’s leg whiskers are essential for hunting, as well as its interaction with the environment. Whiskers act like a cat’s GPS system making them able to move around even when they can’t see.
Have you noticed your cat’s leg whiskers? What about the whiskers above its eyes? Have you ever seen your cat shed its whiskers? Have you ever seen your cat move its whiskers? Tell us all about it in the comments section below.