What are vibrissae?

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Think those lovely long, white whiskers on your cat’s upper lips are the only ones he has? Think again. Those extra strong, thick hairs are called vibrissae. These tactile hairs can also be found above the animal’s eyebrows, farther back on its cheeks, and even on the backs of the front legs.

At twice the thickness of ordinary hair, the roots of these specialized structures are three times deeper and densely surrounded by blood vessels and nerves. They are highly sensitive to the slightest change in pressure, and should never be trimmed as they’re part of the cat’s locator system.

A cat uses his whiskers to judge the width of openings since their length is roughly the width of his body. They assist the animal in keeping track of his captured prey, and are even parts of a cat’s body language.

Whiskers that are pulled back and held flat against the face are an indication of defensiveness to the point of hostility. Those same whiskers in a forward position, however, indicate inquisitiveness and friendliness.

Like so many aspects of these intriguing animals, a cat’s whiskers are part of his “magic.” Whether short and compact or long and luxuriant, they are one of the cat’s most distinctive and useful features.

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