Where did the word whisker come from? The word ‘whisker” originally derived in the 1600’s from the word ‘wisker’ meaning anything that whisks or sweeps. Your cat’s whiskers are like little brooms.
Are Whiskers like hair? Whiskers are not like human hair except, like hair, if they fall out they do grow back. They are NOT to be cut, trimmed or tweezed! Your cat’s whiskers are deeply embedded and connected to their nervous system. Whiskers are proprioceptors that help the cat determine an object’s distance, direction and even surface texture. Some liken the way cats use their whiskers to humans holding our arms out and letting our fingers feel objects. However, whiskers are MUCH more complicated and sensitive than our fingers. The mechanics of this are discussed in last week’s ‘MEWS ‘N NEWS’ posting entitled “Cats and Whiskers (First in a Series of 3)”
Have you seen your cat ‘measuring’ an opening? Please note Sprit’s posting this week entitled “Leapin’ Whiskers!” The video accompanying the post shows a crouching Sophee perched on a beam next to the loft’s railing. Spirit, her brother, is on the loft blocking her exit. Observe Sophee studying the railing, seemingly measuring her next move. She suddenly leaps over two feet straight through a four and ½ inch opening in the railing. Not a hair or whisker on her body touches the opening. Spirit, who is watching her, is obviously surprised at least by the quickness of her leap. I’m sure he was also surprised that she didn’t brush one of the rails, as he does on occasion. Of course Spirit approaches everything at 90 mph.
What is ‘Whisker Stress?’ Whiskers are generally as wide as a cat’s body. A narrow food and water bowl may create pressure to the sensitive whiskers causing ‘whisker stress.’ If your cat scoops food out of the bowl with his/her paw or knocks/drops chunks of food on the floor to eat, you might want to try a wider bowl.
Do whiskers reflect your cat’s mood? Yes, whiskers can and do reflect your cat’s mood in at least the following ways:
- Hanging loosely: relaxed, content.
- Flat against the face: frightened or getting ready for battle; reflecting a defensive and/or aggressive state (note that the whiskers are less likely to be damaged when they are flat against the face)
- Forward Facing: alert, friendly and inquisitive. This can also reflect the hunting mode. When a cat is hunting, the whiskers are sometimes so far forward that they almost form a bowl around the prey (or toy).
- Please use/observe more than one behavior to gauge your cat’s mood more accurately.
Future Interesting Factoids: Next week’s article will be the third in a series of three on whiskers and will cover at least the following:
What happens when your cat is placed in a ‘medical neck cone’?
Do other animals have whiskers?
Information for this article was gleaned and summarized from: Web MD, Pet MD, Wikipedia, Pussington Post, the Cat Behavior Association and, last but not least, my understanding of the material reviewed and from experiences with my cats, including the Cat Authors.