We understand your pain. You own a cat, and unless you spend a lot of time taking your cat to the veterinarian (an experience that most cat owners do only when absolutely necessary due to the hissy fit most cat’s exhibit when locked in a small travel cage) you will note that the chances are very high your cat did not come with any kind of instruction book and there are many questions you have about your cat.
One of those questions is of course, what happens if you trim a cat’s whiskers, or even worse, what happens if you cut off a cats whiskers?
We’ll spare you the suspense. If you do so, you will have one very unhappy cat.
Whiskers are just facial hair for cats, right?
Sorry my friend, but you are dead wrong. Whiskers provide cats with amazing sensory experiences that help them navigate the world. So in essence, whiskers are a cat’s GPS system.
If you ever have watched your cat scoot behind your couch to hide or to just snoop around, you’ve probably wondered, “how does my cat know that tiny space is too small for it to navigate?”
And the answer is, of course, they sense it via their whiskers.
Another common experience is that your cat may use a chair to leap on and then use the chair to hop on your dining room table. After all, why wait for a can of cat food when there’s a fantastic leftover Thanksgiving meal waiting on the table.
So how does your cat know that he can make the leap to the dining room table, or judge whether he or she can climb the curtains and then transverse the curtains to a high rafter, which looks so inviting? Again, it’s the whiskers who tell them.
So how do cat’s whiskers work?
One of the ways that cat’s whiskers work is to provide them with visual information.
In the wild, a little-known factor is that cats can sense prey or predators with their amazing sense of smell and hearing, but they are much better at spotting prey from a distance than they are from seeing something right in front of them.
But whiskers make up for this fact and help a cat orientate to what is in front of them.
The way whiskers work is that they don’t necessarily have a feel of their own. Theoretically, if you could isolate a cat, you could stroke part of its whiskers and the cat would not feel anything.
However, there are tons of rich blood vessels embedded in a cat’s chin, which when activated by the whiskers, provide a cat with up to 40 percent of a cat’s sensory input.
Vibration is essential part of a cat’s whisker system
Cat’s are extremely sensitive to vibration, which all comes from a cat’s whiskers.
When a cat moves, the vibrations that come when a cat steps on grass, for example, cause micro-vibrations that bounce back when solid objects are nearby.
These vibrations may help a cat determine whether there is prey nearby, and how far, and to avoid objects like trees.
In short, cats have a sort of radar system which helps them orientate themselves, particularly in the dark.
You may not think of Fluffy or Lucy in your home as a great white hunter, but even if they never go outside their whiskers help them locate their food and watering bowl at night and help them from running into the furniture.
In fact, this vibrational radar is so effective that even cats who are blind or near-blind and navigate themselves, both in the day and at night in your home.
Whiskers are also body balancers
Whiskers orient a cat to be aware of every part of its body. Cats do this by having special proprioceptors within their whiskers.
In case you’ve ever wondered how a cat that falls off a roof out of a tree is able to manage to land on its feet and cushion the blow, the answer is the proprioceptors in the whiskers quickly transmit to the cat’s brain that it is falling.
Whiskers help communicate a cat’s emotions
Whiskers are also an essential part of reading the emotional status of a cat.
When your cat is at rest, so are its whiskers, but when they are active, whiskers play a part in their communication. When a cat is exploring, he will often pull his whiskers above his eyebrows, giving them that cute-looking, eyes wide open look that we love so much.
But when a cat feels threatened, he will tend to pull his whiskers tight and aim them directly at the impending threat.
Whiskers as protection
People are amazed at the fact that many cats seem to climb into amazingly small places.
Did you ever wonder why more cats are not stuck in knots in a fence or steel gated fences?
It’s due to the fact that cats use their whiskers to test it out. If they can clearly stick their heads in a hole and their entire head goes through including their whiskers, then it’s a go signal that they are unlikely to get stuck in a knothole or a fence grate.
In addition, whiskers caution a cat to be careful when walking in areas that have a lot of dry bushes and thorns that tend to scratch their eyes. The moment of cat senses danger to a cat’s eyes through its whisker sensors, a cat will usually back up and retreat.
Cat’s have whiskers on more than their muzzles
It’s a surprise to many, but cats have more whiskers than are immediately noticeable.
There are whiskers on a cat’s eyes, ears, jaw,s and forelegs. The whiskers on their forelegs are a significant reason why cats are such great hunters in the world.
Be cautious when petting cats
Because of the tremendous amount of nervous system information that whiskers provide, be cautious when petting cats, and in particular, teach children to be gentle around a cat’s face.
Pulling on a cat’s whiskers can be extremely painful, and if you or a child does it, don’t be surprised if the cat responds with a painful nip or a scratch of his paws.
Cat’s are instinctually very careful of their whiskers.
Never trim a cat’s whiskers
Most of all the above information can be sourced back to Petmed.com (https://www.petmd.com/), VCAA hospitals.com (https://vcahospitals.com/)
And it makes practical sense that pretty much every reputable pet medicine blog advises never to trim a cat’s whiskers.
But why not? Wouldn’t my cat look unique with shaved cat’s whiskers, or can I at least die them gold or rainbow-colored?
Although cats might have one or two whiskers fall off in the wild, rarely if ever, will a cat experience all of their whiskers falling off at once.
But dying a cat’s whiskers is never a good idea because they can become quite brittle and fragile from dying.
And what happens if you cut a cats whiskers off?
First of all, prepare for your cat to literally freak out.
Imagine if you suddenly lost most of the vision in your eye and your hearing at the same time. You would freak out too.
Since up to 40 percent of a cat’s sensory output comes from its whiskers, that’s a tremendous amount to lose.
Second of all, your cat will not be able to rely on near the vibrational clues it is used to.
Not only will your cat likely bump into the wall a lot, but it may also be paralyzed at night when cats are most active and have trouble even finding its food and water bowl.
In addition, since the sensory neurons are still buried in your cat’s muzzle, by cutting off its whiskers there may be a near continual flood of false signals to your cat’s brain.
There is really no telling what the impact will be if you cut off a cat’s main sense of sensory input, but the results, in general, may not be pretty. And for what? So you can amuse yourself that you have the most unusual-looking cat on the block?
Once you know the facts, it makes no sense to ever touch a cat’s whiskers with clippers right?
The bottom line line
There is no reason to ever cut your cat’s whiskers. Your cat relies upon its whiskers far more than you really realize. And even the largest cats such as a Maine Coone will only have whiskers around 6 inches long.
Let your cat be a cat without too much human interference, and one of those means is to leave your cat’s whiskers along.