Why Do Cats Have Whiskers?

cats-whiskers Credit: wee3beasties/Moment Open/Getty Images

A cat's whiskers contain sensitive nerves that allow the animal to judge distance and space effectively and to sense objects in the dark to avoid danger. By gently brushing the whiskers against an object, a cat gains an extra sense of what's nearby as a means of protection.

The follicles that house a cat's whiskers feature deep nerve endings that transmit sensations of objects to the brain. Sensory tips at the end of the whiskers pick up environmental vibrations that detect slight movement or nearby obstacles. In addition to picking up on a predator's movements, whiskers allow the feline to discover nearby prey. Cats can use their whiskers to assess tight spaces to hide in or changes in air currents.

These special detectors are found on a cat's muzzle, upper lip, eyebrows, chin and near the feet. Whisker locations on several parts of the body allow the cat to feel the entire front and side areas he is inspecting. Complex muscles allow the feline to move his whiskers in several directions and scope out a spot before moving forward. This is especially useful for climbing trees or fences. Whiskers benefit cats of all types-domesticated or wild. Cats of every size use them for daily activities including hunting, hiding, climbing, or getting a feel for what is ahead.