Factors that determine the length of a cat's whiskers
Questions About Cats

Why Does My Cat Have Long Whiskers?

Genetics and breed are primarily responsible for the length of your cat’s whiskers. Quite a distinct feature, long whiskers are very appealing and can only add to a cat’s distinguished appearance.

Much more than an extension of your cat’s fur, whiskers serve a purpose that can be difficult for a non-cat lover to understand. Helping to anchor your cat’s sense of balance, security, and decision making, whiskers act as radar for your cat thus enabling them to move and glide in ways that we take for granted.

Given the valuable purposes that whiskers serve, the exact length of your cat’s whiskers is irrelevant. Just know that your precious feline is equipped with what it needs to have the perfect sensory awareness. Every cat is different, and whisker length from an appearance standpoint is secondary. Whiskers should never be cut, but whiskers may break off occasionally due to wear and tear.

In this article, we will discuss the purpose and functionality of whiskers and what leads to long whiskers.

Why Do Cats Have Whiskers?

Whiskers are an essential part of a cat’s sensory and communication awareness. Far more than just an appearance piece, whiskers enable a cat to adjust to its surroundings and provide a sense of safety and protection.

At the end of each whisker is a sensory organ known as a proprioceptor. Sending critical signals to the brain and nervous system, the proprioceptor helps a cat make essential and immediate movements based on body positioning.

Because whiskers are sensitive to even the smallest touch and change in environment, they help cats to fit into the smallest of areas and respond to various changes in the atmosphere. Even the slightest vibrations in the air can supply a cat with much-needed information. Whiskers are often described as “feelers” and that is more or less what they are.

Another ability of whiskers is that they are capable of measuring distance. This is why cats can leap from place to place so fast without giving it much thought. Whiskers also enable a cat to avoid harm in the blink of an eye.

Here are some additional fun facts…

  • Whiskers are rooted deeper within the skin compared to fur. The area around your cat’s whiskers contains a substantial amount of blood and nerves, thus making the tops of them very sensitive. You can inflict pain on your cat if you disturb or play with their whiskers. The act of squeezing in a tight spot can push back your cat’s whiskers can also cause discomfort.
  • Because cats are far-sighted, they often rely on their whiskers as a source of visual assistance. The ability to find food, water, toys, and prey largely depends on what sensations are received by their whiskers.
Whisker length by breed of cat

Why Do Some Cats Have Long Whiskers?

The length is determined by genetics and breed. In the same way that some people are tall while others are short, whisker length is largely the same. What is known is that the length of your cats’ whiskers is ideal for your cat. It is most rare that a cat fails to develop long enough whiskers to serve their ultimate purpose.

While there is a school of thought that suggests that they are typically as long as a cat is wide, that is not always the case. It is not uncommon to see small cats with rather long whiskers.

Although longer whiskers are quite striking and can make your cat look very distinguished, the length (or lack thereof) means little.

  • The most significant concern for an owner should center around the threat or actuality of your cat losing whiskers. Often broken when they become snagged on an object or broken in an altercation, the loss of whiskers can keep your cat off balance (both literally and figuratively) until growth returns. Although a cat’s whiskers will never increase in length after full maturity sets in, most broken whiskers will come back to the length they once were without complication.

Are Cat Whiskers the Same as Human Hair?

One of the most common mistakes that people make is to assume that whiskers are like human (facial) hair. This is not true.

Cat whiskers are much longer and stiffer than that of human hair and rooted much deeper. Whereas facial hair strictly serves as an appearance piece, whiskers act as a radar. By comparison, whiskers are much more like human fingers than facial or body hair.

Growing on either side of the nose and upper lip, cats also have a collection of whiskers above the eyes. In many cases, these are the whiskers that get broken off over time but so much depends on the cat’s behavior and interactions.

  • Although whiskers are not similar to human body hair, some of the growth placement is. The most obvious areas notwithstanding, cats also have small whiskers on their jawline in addition to the front and backs of their legs. These whiskers also serve as radar trackers that enable them to move their face and legs in small and dark areas with confidence. This would be the equivalent of a person using their hands to feel around a dark room.

Why Do Whiskers Curl?

The “style” of your cat’s whiskers can serve as an indicator of mood. More than just guidance trackers and radar scopes, whiskers can allow human to get a read on a cat’s emotions.

When a cat is content or relaxed, the whiskers will remain standard. Sticking out and in a common position. However, when whiskers are curled back and are seemingly pinned against the cat’s face, this is a sign of fear and anxiety. In the same way that a cat will pin its ears back when afraid, the same movement will occur in the whiskers.

On a lighter note, whiskers that are pointing in a forward direction is primarily associated with play. While this feature is often displayed during stalk mode, your cat may poke its whiskers forward if it’s chasing a toy you have presented.

Is it painful when a cat's whiskers are trimmed?
  • Have you ever looked at your cat and it appeared as though their whiskers were all but missing while other times they were stiff and quite obvious? This is due to mood. Address your cat in a variety of loving and playful ways and watch your cat’s whiskers change. Tracing whiskers to mood can also be essential if you suspect your cat is sick. What your cat may not display in basic behavior and verbalization it will display in subtle cues such as whisker placement.
  • If you have noticed that your cat’s whiskers have curled due to damage or the collection of a foreign substance, you should allow your cat to handle the issue via natural grooming. It is not uncommon for cats to place their heads deep within their food bowls and gather food on their whiskers. The collection of debris can cause whiskers to curl or become twisted. If you have visually spotted an issue with your cat’s whiskers, your cat is most certainly aware. Allow your cat to bathe itself so you will not run the risk of bringing discomfort to your pet by manually cleaning the area.

Is it Okay to Trim Your Cat’s Whiskers?

Never cut or trim with your cat’s whiskers.

Your cat’s whiskers, long or short, are the perfect length. Changing this in any form can cause severe trauma to your cat and cause them to become disoriented and afraid. Because whiskers allow your cat to come and go through virtually any type of environment, the lack of normal length can render them incapacitated to some degree while second-guessing even the most common movements.

Although cut or trimmed whiskers will grow back, it will take a while until your cat’s true senses have returned. Your cat may enter a lethargic and depressed phase until its whiskers have returned to their proper length.

  • In addition to shortening your cat’s whiskers, you should also avoid playing with them. Never grab your cat’s face and explore your cat’s whiskers, attempt to see what they feel like, pull them, etc. Even if you are engaging in these activities through honest curiosity, you are causing discomfort to your cat. Because whiskers are rooted so deep under the skin, it can irritate internally and externally.

If your cat has long whiskers, there is a chance that it came from a litter where long whiskers were a prominent trait. Similar to various human characteristics, long whiskers are a byproduct of genetics. If your cat is of a specific breed where they are common, your cat’s appearance could be a fulfillment of the breed itself.

Although the appearance of whiskers could be a source of curiosity, all cats are equipped with the whiskers that they need for their overall body type. This includes the center of gravity, head size, eye placement, and depth, etc.

Enjoy your cat’s whiskers from afar and appreciate one of the most interesting and complex aspects of your precious feline.