Why Do Cats Have Whiskers? 10 FAQ About Cat Whiskers

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Last Updated: November 1st, 2023

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Have you ever wondered, “Why do cats have whiskers?” Look no further, we have all the whiskers questions answered!

Why do cats have whiskers? black cat with white whiskers and green eyes

In this article, we explore the fascinating functions of one of the most distinctive features of our feline friends: their whiskers. These seemingly simple strands of hair hold many powers and are essential part of cats sensory awareness and navigation. Join us as we answer the most frequently asked questions about cat whiskers, explaining their purpose, how they affect a cat’s behavior, and what happens when they’re lost.

Why Do Cats Have Whiskers?

Cats’ whiskers, or vibrissae, are highly sensitive tactile hairs that play a crucial role in their sensory perception. Here are some of the key functions of whiskers in cats:

  • Spatial Awareness: Whiskers are deeply embedded in the cat’s skin and are connected to a muscular and nervous system that is highly sensitive. They can detect even the slightest changes in the environment, helping cats to examine the space around them and navigate in the dark or in tight spaces.
  • Measuring Openings: The whiskers are roughly as wide as the cat’s body. This helps them to determine whether they can fit through openings without having to visually assess the size.
  • Hunting and Predatory Skills: When hunting or playing, cats use their whiskers to detect the movements of their prey. The vibrations in the air created by movement can be felt by the whiskers, giving cats detailed information about the size, shape, and speed of their prey. A study titled “Whiskers Reduce the Locomotion Noise of Hunting Cats” by Rees and Cuthill, that was published in the journal “Current Biology” in 2016, investigates how the whiskers of cats might help them stalk prey silently. It suggests that whiskers can detect and help minimize the cat’s own noise while moving through vegetation, thereby improving their hunting.
  • Protection: Whiskers also protect cats by triggering a blink reflex when they come into contact with objects. This helps protect the cat’s face and eyes from potential harm.
  • Communication: The position of a cat’s whiskers can also convey emotional states. For example, whiskers that are pulled back against the face might indicate aggression or fear, while whiskers that are relaxed and sticking out sideways indicate a calm or curious cat.
Cat with a prey in her mouth, cat with a bird in her mouth

FAQ About Cat Whiskers

What Would Happen if You Cut Cat’s Whiskers Off?

Cat’s whiskers should never be cut or trimmed! If a cat’s whiskers were cut off, it would likely experience disorientation and distress. Whiskers are not just hairs; they are sensory tools that provide vital information about the cat’s environment. Cutting them impairs the cat’s orientation in space and distances, potentially leading to clumsiness, misjudging jumps, and increased anxiety. The cat might also have difficulty navigating in the dark and could become more prone to accidents.

What Happens if You Pull on Cat’s Whiskers?

Pulling on a cat’s whiskers can cause significant discomfort or pain due to their deep roots and high sensitivity, as they are connected to the nervous system. This action can be distressing and disorienting for the cat, potentially leading to anxiety or fear. Repeated pulling or manipulation of the whiskers can damage the follicles, possibly affecting the whiskers’ growth and the cat’s spatial navigation abilities. It’s important to treat a cat’s whiskers with care and avoid any unnecessary handling to ensure your cat’s well-being.

Do Cats Whiskers Grow Back?

Yes, cat whiskers do grow back. Whiskers, like other types of hair, go through a natural growth cycle which includes shedding and regrowth. If a whisker falls out naturally or is accidentally cut off, it will regrow over time. However, the rate of regrowth can vary depending on the cat’s age, health, and diet. It’s important to note that while whiskers can regrow, any damage to the whisker follicles can affect the growth process.

a close up of a cat with long whiskers and blue eyes

How Many Whiskers Does A Cat Have?

A cat typically has 24 whiskers arranged in four rows on each side of its face, totaling 12 whiskers per side. These whiskers are meticulously organized, with the top two rows able to move independently from the bottom two. Beyond these facial whiskers, cats also have shorter whisker-like hairs above their eyes (supercilary whiskers), on their chin, and on the back of their front legs, which also serve as tactile sensory tools. The precise number can vary slightly among individual cats, but the general pattern remains consistent across the feline species.

Do Indoor Cats Need Whiskers?

Yes, indoor cats still need their whiskers. Whiskers serve as essential sensory tools that aid in spatial awareness, navigation, and communication, which are important for cats in any environment. Even though indoor cats might not face the same challenges and risks as outdoor cats, they still rely on their whiskers to judge distances, move through tight spaces, and interact with their surroundings and other living beings in the home. Additionally, whiskers play a role in expressing a cat’s emotional state. So, regardless of whether a cat lives indoors or outdoors, whiskers are a vital part of its sensory apparatus and overall well-being.

Do Cats Like it When You Stroke Their Whiskers?

Most cats do not enjoy having their whiskers touched or stroked. Whiskers are highly sensitive and are connected to the nervous system. Because they are so sensitive, touching a cat’s whiskers can be overwhelming or even uncomfortable for them. It can cause disorientation or annoyance, and some cats may react negatively by moving away, swatting, or even nipping.

Each cat has its own unique set of preferences and tolerances, so while most cats dislike whisker contact, there might be exceptions. As a general rule though, it’s best to avoid touching a cat’s whiskers and instead focus on petting areas that most cats typically enjoy, such as the base of the ears, under the chin, and along the back.

Why Are Cat Whiskers So Sharp?

Cat whiskers may feel sharp or stiff to the touch because they are thicker and more rigid than regular hair. This rigidity is essential for their function as sensory tools. Whiskers are deeply embedded in the cat’s skin and are surrounded by a rich supply of nerves and blood vessels. The stiffness of the whiskers makes them highly sensitive to vibrations and changes in air currents, enabling cats to detect even the slightest movements or shifts in their environment. The sharpness you perceive is just the firmness required for them to be effective tactile sensors.

What Is Whisker Fatigue?

Whisker fatigue, also known as whisker stress, is a condition that can occur when a cat’s sensitive whiskers are overstimulated by frequent contact with objects or surfaces. This overstimulation can cause discomfort or stress for the cat.

Whisker fatigue might occur in situations where a cat’s whiskers repeatedly brush against the sides of a narrow food or water bowl, for example. This constant contact and overstimulation can lead to stress, making the cat hesitant to eat or drink from these bowls, sometimes leading to behavioral changes.

To prevent whisker fatigue, cat owners can use wide, shallow bowls for food and water, ensuring that the cat’s whiskers don’t touch the sides when eating or drinking. Additionally, providing a spacious and uncluttered environment can help minimize unnecessary whisker contact and reduce the risk of whisker fatigue.

Do Cats Feel Pain In Their Whiskers?

Cats do not feel pain in their whiskers in the same way they feel pain in other parts of their body because whiskers themselves do not have pain receptors. However, the base of the whiskers is deeply embedded in the skin in a follicle that is rich in nerves and blood vessels. This makes the area around the base of the whiskers highly sensitive. If whiskers are pulled, bent sharply, or cut, it can cause discomfort or pain to the cat due to the sensitivity of the follicle. That’s why it’s important to be gentle with a cat’s whiskers and avoid any unnecessary handling or manipulation.

closeup of a white cats whiskers and green eyes

Do Cats Whiskers Fall Out Naturally?

Yes, cat whiskers fall out naturally. Like other hairs on a cat’s body, whiskers go through a growth cycle that includes a phase of shedding and regrowth. It’s normal for a cat to lose a few whiskers now and then, and they will grow back in time. The shedding of whiskers is a natural process, and as long as the whiskers are falling out in a normal pattern and new ones are growing in, it’s typically not a cause for concern. If you notice a significant loss of whiskers or other signs of skin irritation or health issues, it’s a good idea to consult a veterinarian to rule out any underlying problems.


Whiskers are an essential part of a cat’s sensory apparatus and overall well-being. From aiding in spatial awareness to contributing to expressive body language, whiskers are not just facial adornments but essential sensory tools. You should always treat you cat’s whiskers with caution and understanding of their sensitivity.

Find some whiskers-inspired cat names on our list of 220 Cool and Cute Cat Names.



Maja Sebenik is a proud owner of a Dachshund named Bimba. With three years of experience working as a researcher for a pet magazine, Maja's love for animals runs deep. Through her heartfelt writing, Maja shares practical tips, advice, and heartwarming anecdotes to inspire fellow pet lovers. Join her on a journey to explore the wonders of the animal kingdom, one paw at a time.

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