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According to Wikipedia, whiskers are usually thicker and stiffer than other types of hair, but similar to other hairs, the shaft or body consists of keratin and contains no nerves. Keratin is a thick fibrous protein which also makes up hair, nails, and other areas of the body.
Whiskers are different from other hair structures because they grow from a special hair follicle that incorporates a capsule of blood called a blood sinus which is linked to sensory nerves. Whiskers are usually up to two to three times thicker than the fur on your cat’s coat.
Whiskers are more than just a thicker and longer hair follicle. They actually play a very important role in your cat’s livelihood and daily activities. Since whiskers are connected to sensory nerves, they are one of your cat’s most powerful tools.
Your cat is able to receive information about their environment through their whiskers. Their whiskers then send lightning fast signals to their brain to help them make instantaneous reactions with great precision.
Why Are My Cat’s Whiskers so Long?
Did you know that the whiskers on your cat’s nose are normally about as long as your cat’s width? This isn’t by coincidence, but by nature. Long whiskers actually help your cat figure out how wide an opening is and whether or not they will be able to fit through it.
Having long whiskers not only helps them fit through different openings, but it also helps them feel and sense their surroundings. According to Julia, in this Today I Found Out article, cat whiskers are so sensitive that they can even pick up on air movements indoors. In fact, cats generally don’t even touch objects with their whiskers at all.
Is It Bad to Cut a Cat’s Whiskers?
Never cut your cat’s whiskers. There is no rhyme or reason to cut whiskers and this can cause more harm then good. Cutting your cat’s whiskers can actually cause them to become disoriented and distressed since you are effectively removing some of their sensory.
It is also said that cutting your cat’s whiskers can permanently damage their ability to use their whiskers even after they grow back.
Why Do Cat Whiskers Fall Out?
Similar to your cat’s coat shedding, they may also shed whiskers. Don’t panic if you find a whisker or two on the ground, or if one comes off during a quick grooming session. This is considered perfectly normal.
Your cat’s whiskers will grow back in time and they will be back to a full face of whiskers in no time.
What Problems Cause Whisker Loss?
Full or serious whisker loss is not very common among cats, but there are a wide range of conditions that may lead to this. Here are a few things you should be aware of about whisker loss.
- Alopecia – This is a condition that affects many different animals, including us humans. Alopecia is a systemic loss of hair across the entire body, including your cat’s whiskers. If your cat is losing fur, then there is a good chance that they may be losing whiskers as well.
- Constant Brawls and Fighting with Other Cats – If your cat is constantly attacking or being attacked by other cats, then this can lead to a loss of whiskers. This is mostly prevalent in outdoor cats that encounter other cats in the wild, but indoor cats can have their brawls as well with other cats they may coincide with.
- Fungal Infections – Mainly ringworm which can affect your cat’s face. This can lead to round patches of hair loss, affecting both the fur and whiskers.
- Mite Infestations – Mite infestations are another cause of fur and whisker loss in cats. This is usually accompanied with sore and irritated skin
- Feline Acne – Some instances of feline acne can contribute to the loss of whiskers.
These are just a few of many underlying conditions that may cause whisker loss in cats.
Can You Tell How Old a Cat Is by Their Whiskers?
Darkening whiskers is usually a sign that a cat is getting older. There are many other ways to tell a cats age. According to PetMD, the following are some of the best ways to determine the age of a cat:
- Examine Your Cat’s Teeth – It becomes difficult to tell a cats age by their teeth once they have all their adult teeth, but it’s not impossible. The wear and tear as well as tartar buildup are great indicators for a cat’s age. If there is little tartar buildup, especially along the cat’s cheek teeth, that cat is possibly 1 to 2 years old. The more tartar buildup, the older the cat.
- Inspect Your Cat’s Eyes – At around age 6 or 7, cat’s eye lenses become denser.
- Cat Grooming Habits – Cat’s are very particular when it comes to grooming. Most of the younger cats want to have a pristine coat. This means you will find younger cats constantly grooming themselves to look their best. Once a cat reaches a certain age, their grooming habits will slowly fade away.
- Make an Educated Guess – Assess your cat’s physical appearance, grooming habits, teeth, and eyes to make an educated guess about how old they are.
Why Is My Cat’s Whiskers Turning Black?
It is not uncommon for cats to change colors as they age. This also goes for their whiskers. Color changes in whiskers can be due to a dark colored cat in their ancestry, and the changing whiskers can be a tell tale sign of that.
If you notice your cat’s whiskers changing colors, don’t be alarmed. Darkening of whiskers can also be a sign that your cat is aging. It is not uncommon for whiskers to change to grey or black as a cat reaches their older stages of life.
Whiskers are made up of a fibrous protein called keratin. They are connected to sensory nerves that helps your cat with balance and lightning fast reflex decisions in the wild.
Your cat’s whiskers should never be cut or modified in any way as this can damage their ability to use their whiskers effectively in the future even if they grow back.