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The Cat's Whiskers

Miss Kitty.jpg
S. Hendren
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My goodness, Miss Kitty - what beautiful whiskers you have!

A cat’s whiskers certainly help to make its face more interesting.  But those whiskers are not just for show.  They are useful tools that help the cat understand and navigate its environment.

     A cat usually has about 12 whiskers on each side of its nose.  It also has shorter whiskers above its eyes, on its chin and on the back bottom part of its front legs.  Cat whiskers are very sensitive, because they are connected to the animal’s nervous system.  You may notice that a cat’s whiskers are usually about as long as the cat is wide; they tell the cat if it can fit through an opening.  Some cats will not eat from certain food bowls, because their whiskers tell them the opening is too small.  If you see your furry friend using its paw to scoop food out of the bowl and eating off the floor, you may need a wider bowl, or a plate.

     A cat’s whiskers should never be trimmed or cut; that’s the equivalent of you being blindfolded; the cat will be unable get that sensory input, so it may seem confused and even a little dizzy.  Cats do shed their whiskers from time to time, so you may find a stray one here or there, but not too often.  Finding lots of lost whiskers could be an indication that your feline friend needs to see its veterinarian for a checkup.

     One of the things that makes cats so interesting is their facial expressions.  If the whiskers are forward and ears back, watch out because it may attack.  If they are relaxed, the cat is probably contented.  If the whiskers are flat against the cheeks, the cat may be afraid. Now imagine the eyes open wide, ears up and whiskers forward.  That’s an alert cat, probably ready to play.

     So look at your cat and pay attention to its whiskers.  They can tell you a lot about how your feline friend is feeling.  If you wish you had a feline friend of your own, visit your local shelter or rescue group and adopt one, and enjoy learning to read those whiskers, when you’re speaking of pets.

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Mindy Norton has been “Speaking of Pets” on Alabama Public Radio since 1995.