How Many Whiskers Does A Cat Have? And Why?

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Any cat lover has adoringly noticed their fuzzy friend’s whiskers. Whether they’re spindly and white or short and multi-colored, you’ve probably realized cats seem to have about the same amount of whiskers on their cheeks, regardless of their breed; with a few exceptions, of course. So how many whiskers does a cat have, and why does it matter? We’ve done some searching and have some very interesting information for you!

Most cats have 12 whiskers on each cheek for a total of 24 muzzle whiskers. That’s what most people think about when asking how many whiskers cats have. However, cats have whiskers (vibrissae hair) in several strategic locations across their body to the actual number of these special hairs is actually higher.

Whiskers are an important part of a cat’s sensory functions, providing our friends with information with which they navigate their world. Now that you know the standard number of whiskers cats have on their muzzles, let’s discuss whiskers in more detail. We’ll go over the other places you’ll find whiskers, as well as talk about how they help a cat perceive the world around them. There will be more questions answered as well. Trust us; you don’t want to stop scrolling now!

A cute Bengal cat lying upside down on the bed, How Many Whiskers Does A Cat Have? And Why?

Where are the Whiskers?

As mentioned previously, the whiskers above your cat’s mouth on their cheeks or mystacial whiskers are the ones we most often think of, but cats have whiskers above their eyes, close to their ears, on their chins, and even a few on their legs. Most cats have four rows of three whiskers on each cheek, which comes to the 12 on each side. That number is set, whereas the whiskers located elsewhere will vary in number.

What Exactly do the Whiskers Do?

Whiskers, also known as vibrissae, are highly sensitive, coarse, tactile hairs that assist in a cat’s spatial awareness. Whiskers come from hair follicles just like their regular fur; however, whiskers are up to three times more deeply rooted than regular hairs.

As we can all see, they are also much coarser and thicker. The root of the whisker is also full of nerves and vessels that are just as sensitive as our fingertips. Though the whisker itself doesn’t have nerve endings, the follicles are so sensitive it takes barely a touch to transmit data to your cat. Let’s take a look at the purposes the whiskers serve in a few locations.

Above the Eyes

A cat’s whiskers above the eyes protect her from danger. When something brushes against these whiskers, the alert sent to those sensitive roots causes the cat to close their eyes and keep them protected. This comes in handy while hunting, especially when the cat is hyper-focused on the prey.

Cheeks

The mystacial whiskers enable the cat to judge if it can fit through a narrow space. These whiskers directly correlate to the width of the cat, so the bigger the cat, the greater the length of mystacial whiskers.

Forelegs

The whiskers on a kitty’s forelegs or front paws — you can think of this as your cat’s wrist– are designed to help them hunt and kill prey. They’re formally called carpal whiskers. These whiskers inform the cat about the prey in their grasp.

Since cats can see extremely well up close, they can glean information by feel, such as if the prey is still living or if the final blow has yet to be dealt.

Do cats shed their whiskers?

It’s completely normal for your cat to shed a whisker occasionally, though nowhere near as frequently as they shed their fur. If it becomes noticeable that your kitty is missing whiskers, it’s likely time to visit the vet. Cats suffer from allergies, acne, or bacterial infections, which can cause multiple whiskers to fall out. Without their whiskers, cats can become uncomfortable and disoriented.

Do cats have 2 sets of whiskers?

Cats have more than two sets of whiskers. They have whiskers on either side of their muzzle, above both eyes, close to both ears, and on both forelegs. In fact, the only whiskers cats have that don’t come in a set are the ones on their chins!

What are cat whiskers made of?

Cat’s whiskers have a similar make-up to hair, being comprised of tough keratin. That protein is also found in their claws. Whiskers fall somewhere between regular fur and their claws on the toughness scale.

A beautiful British shorthair sitting and staring at something on a dark background

Is it OK to touch a cat’s whiskers?

Whether or not touching a cat’s whiskers is okay is somewhat of a touchy question, all jokes aside. You might brush your cat’s whiskers while petting them, which is fine, but repeated touching can be annoying.

Though just touching a cat’s whiskers doesn’t hurt them, it can get annoying and cause your pet to become agitated. Remember, whiskers are very sensitive. It’s definitely not okay to pull a cat’s whiskers.

What is Whisker Fatigue?

Whisker fatigue is when a cat’s whiskers get overstimulated. Think of continually rubbing your fingers across a velcro surface, scratching your nails against a chalkboard, or clothing rubbing against you to the point of chafing. It’s potentially exhausting!

A similar thing can happen to your cat if their whiskers are touched too much. This can happen when something as seemingly simple as a food bowl being the wrong height or width and rubbing your friend the wrong way.

Too much information stresses your cat out. What your pet for signs of stress and ensure it’s not overstimulation of their whiskers causing the issue.

Why do cats rub against you? Read our post about that and learn why that action doesn’t cause whisker fatigue.

How long are a cat’s whiskers?

The length of a cat’s whiskers will depend on the size of a cat. Because the cheek whiskers are used to judge if a cat can fit through a narrow opening, the chunkier your cat is, the longer their whiskers will be.

What happens if you cut off a cat’s whiskers? 

Since cats use their whiskers to navigate the world around them, cutting them off could cause the cat to become disoriented. It doesn’t hurt, necessarily, but it is not a kind thing to do. They could potentially become injured if they don’t have all the necessary faculties, so though it doesn’t directly hurt them, the disorientation can cause harm.

How can you tell your cat might be in pain? Check out this article: “35 Signs Your Cat May Be In Pain”.

Do hairless cats have whiskers?

Hairless cats can have whiskers, though many don’t. You might worry this would cause a hairless cat to be exceptionally clumsy, but that’s not the case. The Sphynx cat without whiskers has long learned to operate without them.

Can you tell how old a cat is by their whiskers?

A cat’s age can potentially be deduced from their whiskers. As cats age, their whiskers grow as they do. Additionally, they do sometimes change colors with age. Though a cat’s whiskers might be a clue, they don’t provide the best clue as to their age. Looking at their teeth is a much better indicator.

A cute Siamese cat lying on a small bench on the background

What other animals have whiskers?  

There are many other animals that have whiskers! Other animals with whiskers range from land, air, and sea, such as –

  • otters
  • sea lions
  • bats
  • mice
  • walruses
  • chinchillas
  • raccoons
  • beavers

Fun fact: A chinchilla’s whiskers are almost a third of their body length!

Do dogs have whiskers too?

Yup! Dogs have whiskers for similar reasons as cats, serving as extra sensory input and assisting in spatial awareness. The color and length of a dog’s whiskers can change based on their breed.

What can you do with cat whiskers that you find around your home?

Enough discarded whiskers could be used to create a bristly brush. Some botanists use cat whiskers to cross-pollinate flowers and plants that might be endangered. Whiskers are often used in pagan rituals and witchcraft.

The prospect of collecting your cat’s whiskers might seem odd to some, but it’s not as rare as you might think. All sorts of cat blogs and groups are filled with people who kept their cat’s whiskers and never regretted it.

It can be comforting once your beloved friend crosses the rainbow bridge to still have a piece of them. And you never know, but one day you might be able to create a clone of your sweet pet. Consider housing whiskers in a small, decorative jar.

View these jars on Amazon.

In Closing

Whiskers are an important part of your cat’s wellbeing. They offer safety, awareness, and navigation throughout a cat’s life. We have to admit, they’re pretty cute too!

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