Also known as “vibrissae” or tactile hairs, cat whiskers are actually specialized hairs that are much thicker, stiffer and set deeper than regular hair. On a cat’s muzzle, you will see the whiskers are arranged in neat, horizontal rows. Shorter whiskers can also be found above the eyes, farther back on the cheeks, and on the chin. If you look closely, you can find whiskers on the wrists of the front legs, too.
Whiskers are very sensitive, and most experts agree that cats use these tactile hairs as a measuring tool. A cat’s whiskers are approximately the width of his body, so they help the cat determine if he can fit through an opening, and they also help him to navigate in the dark. Cats also use their whiskers, especially the ones on the front legs, to help them tactilely keep track of prey.
If you take the time to closely watch your cat, you will see that the position of the whiskers is a good indicator of mood. When a cat is excited or curious, the whiskers will point forward. Relaxed, downward-pointing whiskers indicate a relaxed, happy kitty. Whiskers pulled back indicate a cat that is wary, angry or defensive.
Because whiskers are so sensitive, most cats prefer to eat from wide, shallow dishes so their whiskers do not touch the side of the dish. Because cats rely on their whiskers to gather information, you should never trim or cut your cat’s whiskers.