No, we are not talking about a certain pet food! We are talking about those extra long hairs on your cat or dog’s face, whiskers.
They are modified hairs (Vibrissae) that are very important to a cat or dog, and also other mammals that have whiskers for example, mouse, lion, sea lion and even horses to name a few. Whiskers are not like hair in that they are innervated, meaning they are directed by the nervous system.
Whiskers are usually found around the nose and upper mouth area and eyes. Manatees have them all over their body but most animals they are forming an orderly pattern on the snout area. The whiskers can be up to 50mm long (in rats).
So how do they work?
They are an extension of a body, their protrusion from the body adds an extra sensory ability to detect things close at hand. As the whiskers brush past an object the irregularity sends a message down the whiskers to hundreds of motion sensors in the hair follicle. These messages send details to the animal about their precise location, size and texture and other information about the object the whisker touched.
Some mammals use their whiskers to detect air currents which may help detect danger.
Dogs whiskers also help them in the dark, remembering that their eyes are not so great in the dark. Like cats they can also use their whiskers in a threatening manner if they feel they are at risk by pointing or pushing their whiskers forward.
Cats whiskers are ultra sensitive and pay a huge role in their well being and security in any given area. Did you know that their whiskers can determine if they can go in a tight hole or space, like a gauge for the body to make sure that the whole of their body can get through. It is best not to play with your cat’s whiskers as they are actually ultra sensitive and you can cause them pain by messing with them. Cats also have additional whiskers on the backs of their lower front legs, we bet you didn’t know that and now after reading this you will go and take a look 🐱