Lucky for us, whiskers are some of the few things we actually understand about cats. Whiskers serve many purposes and are important for a variety of reasons. While it’s nice for a cat to have a face full of them, there are times when you might notice your cat’s whiskers falling out. Here’s a quick overview of cat whiskers followed by some reasons why your cat’s whiskers might be falling out–including situations that could potentially be of concern.
What do cat whiskers do?
The better question here is what don’t cat whiskers do? More than just facial decorations, whiskers actually serve many important purposes including:
Sensory perception: As anyone who has messed with a kitty’s whiskers will know, they are extremely sensitive. Cat whiskers act as sensors which help your kitty to navigate in the dark or in low light.
Space perception: There’s an old saying that if a cat’s whiskers can fit, so can the rest of the cat and…this is true! Whiskers help cats judge if that potential squeeze will be too tight or just right.
The righting reflex: (add link) Taking a deep dive into cats’ infamous ability to always land on their feet reveals that whiskers are part of that equation. Many systems work together to perform this scientifically fantastic feat, and whiskers are included because they perform a function called proprioception or kinesthesia. This is basically the body’s ability to sense movement, action, and location in space–and humans have it too. Sometimes called the “sixth sense”, for cats, whiskers help to orient where their bodies are in space.
Sending a message: Kitty whiskers can also tell you how your kitty is feeling. If your cat’s whiskers are flat back against her face, it’s a good sign she feels threatened. If they are in full out bloom, it likely means she is happy and relaxed.
What are cat whiskers made of?
Cat whiskers are specialized hairs made of keratin. These hairs, called “vibrissae” are embedded deeper in the skin than regular hairs and have highly sensitive nerve endings that transmit spatial information.
In general cats have 24 whiskers on their muzzles, 12 on each side, and are generally proportionate in length to the width of a cat’s body. If your kitty gains weight, thought, the whiskers will not grow longer.
Why do my cat’s whiskers fall out and will they grow back?
It is normal for a cat to lose a whisker here and there. Because they are hairs, they shed like any others, and another will grow back in its place. Generally, whiskers will shed every few months and usually not more than one or two at a time so you’re more likely to notice them on your floor than you are missing from a spot on your cat’s face. It takes anywhere from six to 12 weeks for a whisker to grow back and become functional so your cat’s whiskers are basically doing an endless dance of regrowth.
If your cat is losing more than one or two whiskers at a time, there may be some cause for concern. Here are some of the more common reasons why this might occur:
Stress: if you have moved or made changes within your household it is possible that your cat will experience a stress reaction that results in some whiskers falling out. These will grow back so your best bet is not to worry too much and focus your energy on making you kitty feel safe, secure, and on the way back to her happy place.
Cat acne: this is a fairly common condition usually caused by food and/or oil buildup on plastic food or water bowls. Normally, cat acne occurs on a cat’s chin but can spread up to his cheeks causing whiskers to become irritated and fall out. The best way to cure this problem is to switch to glass or ceramic bowls and to clean them regularly.
Infection: in the same vein as cat acne, bacterial or fungal infections can wreak havoc on sensitive kitty whiskers. A common infection in cats is ringworm–which is actually a fungal infection–which can cause hair and whisker loss. The good news is ringworm can be treated easily with medication prescribed by your Veterinarian.
Allergies: also quite common, allergies usually show up in cats as skin irritation. Allergies can be caused by things like food, grass, or pollen and if the irritation happens to manifest in the whisker area, your kitty could lose their whiskers. Your Veterinarian can help identify allergens and work with you to develop a plan to get your kitty on the mend.
Injury: a run-in with other critters could result in injury to the skin on a cat’s face. If such a wound were to become infected, it could cause whiskers to fall out. Because infections aren’t always obvious (such as with an abscess) whisker loss could be a good sign that something is going on. A Vet visit will help you determine if an injury is an issue and your Vet can prescribe antibiotics that will help your kitty heal up fast.
Can I trim my cat’s whiskers?
It doesn’t hurt a kitty to trim their whiskers but it’s not something that is necessary. If your kitty has a wonky whisker that is bent or curling in a way that could be irritating to them, you can definitely trim it back. That said, while a little trimming here and there is safe, you should never pull on, or pull out, your cat’s whiskers. Even if a whisker is a bit crooked it is still doing its job. Plus, pulling on these sensitive hairs can be very painful.
Some say collecting cat whiskers is good luck and we, and our kitties, can always use more of that!