All cats have whiskers, and some cats’ whiskers are longer than others. If your feline has an exceptionally long set of whiskers, you might consider trimming them. A quick trim tames their wild appearance and makes your cat look instantly smarter.
However, you should never trim your cat’s whiskers! No matter how long they get, you must let their whiskers be. Whiskers might look like hairs, but they perform a sensory function that cats rely on every day. Cutting them results in a loss of sensory input and can be an extremely painful experience.
In this article, I answer all your whisker-trimming questions. What happens if you cut a cat’s whiskers? Why are whiskers so important? And if you cut your cat’s whiskers accidentally, what should be your next move? Keep reading to find out!
What are Whiskers?
Whiskers are thick hairs that stem from your cat’s face. Unlike regular hairs, they don’t cover your cat’s entire face; whiskers form a set pattern. Most cats have twelves whiskers arranged in rows on both cheeks, plus other whiskers extending from above the eyes and the chin. However, this precise placement does vary between breeds.
Whiskers are also embedded much deeper into the skin than the strands that make up regular fur. The follicles they grow from have a rich blood supply and plenty of nerves. This means whiskers are much more than hairs! They’re extremely sensitive and able to receive a load of sensory input.
Why Do Cats Need Whiskers?
Whiskers look like regular hairs but serve a far more significant function than pure aesthetics. Cats need whiskers and rely on them for their sensory capabilities. Everything that touches one of their whiskers sends signals to the nerves in the corresponding follicle.
This relays sensory information to the brain, informing cats of what they’ve discovered and guiding cats through their day. Below I look at some of the benefits this brings to your cat’s daily life. Knowing these functions is crucial for understanding why trimming cat whiskers is a no-go!
1. Protection from Pathogens
Remember I said whiskers are on the cheeks, above the eyes, and on the chin? This placement is strategical. The eyes, nose, and mouth are all entry points for pathogens. Dirt and debris can also enter here and cause damage, but the whiskers detect any of these things before they get close.
This alerts your cat to shut its eyes or move its head, acting as a form of protection. Think of them as a cat’s alternatives to eyelashes and eyebrows, two structures that protect our eyes. Cats do have eyelashes, but their whiskers act as a first line of defense.
2. Judging Small Spaces
The length of a cat’s whiskers is also intentional. A cat’s whiskers correspond to the width of its body; cats with long whiskers tend to be larger breeds or fatter cats. Therefore, cats can use their whiskers to judge the width of small spaces and determine if they can fit through the gap. This stops them from getting stuck in a sticky situation!
3. Hunting & Survival
Even more remarkable is that whiskers don’t need physical contact with an object to receive sensory input. They are so sensitive they can detect subtle changes in airflow. Whenever an animal or person walks past your cat, they’ll change the air current slightly. Using their whiskers, cats can identify the size and shape of the moving object without even looking at it!
This means cats can see very well in the dark, a skill vital for survival. In the wild, cats hunt at night and need to accurately know the position of their prey to improve their chances of catching their next meal. Predators of cats are also lurking in the dark, and their whiskers can alert them to improve their chances of escape.
4. Upclose Vision
Cats’ eyes are excellently adapted to see objects far away. Yet their up-close vision is poor, to say the least. They notoriously struggle to see things right in front of their faces.
Have you ever waved a toy directly in front of your cat’s eyes and got no response? Or perhaps your cat paws at her water bowl when trying to work out of there is anything inside it; she cannot see the water level, so she has to check with her paws. If you don’t have spill-proof cat water bowls, this causes a lot of mess!
These are prime shows of how poor their short-sighted vision is. However, whiskers improve this and let cats know when there is an object that their eyes can’t quite make out. This stops cats from walking into something they can’t see or identifying toys and food bowls at night.
5. Landing on Their Feet
As the saying goes, cats always land on their feet. Cats have an instinctive skill to know what way’s up and land gracefully when jumping from a height. Once again, this is thanks to their whiskers. At the end of all whiskers are proprioceptors that help coordinate body position and movement. This gives cats outstanding balance, enabling them to jump and climb quickly.
Why Might You Want to Cut Cat’s Whiskers?
Whiskers serve several essential functions. So, why might you consider trimming your cat’s whiskers if they’re so important? There are a few reasons why owners want to give their cat’s facial hairs a quick trim, including those listed below:
- Aesthetics: Some owners are obsessed with their cat’s aesthetics and want to remove all of its “wild” features. We can all strive for a perfectly trimmed coat that is beautifully clean! But some pet parents want even the whiskers to match their perfectly trimmed coats.
- Water Spills: Many cats with long whiskers struggle to drink from water bowls due to whisker fatigue. They often tip their water bowl over or refuse to drink entirely, leading to dehydration! Some owners think they can help their cat out of this catch-twenty-two by trimming their whiskers so they don’t touch the edge of the bowl.
- Damage: Whisker damage happens all time time. Your cat might have gotten into a catfight and broken several whiskers or perhaps singed the ends on a hot flame. Therefore, some owners want to know whether to cut the damaged parts away.
What Happens if You Cut a Cat’s Whiskers?
Despite all the reasons you could consider trimming cat whiskers I’ve listed above, you should never cut a cat’s whiskers. In fact, cats’ whiskers are crucial for so many essential functions that trimming cat whiskers isn’t the only thing to avoid. You also should never curl or dye a cat’s whiskers to blend in with their coat.
It would be best to avoid touching your cat’s whiskers as well. Occasionally making contact when petting is fine, but purposefully touching or pulling on whiskers is a firm no. These specialized hairs are so sensitive it can cause a stressful overload of sensory information to your cat’s brain.
I’ve already run through five reasons cats need whiskers in their daily lives, so you should begin to understand why damage to whiskers must be avoided at all costs. Here is a close look at what happens if a cat loses its whiskers and why you should never cut these hairs.
Cats use their whiskers to navigate the world around them. Their whiskers help them identify where they are, inform them of who is walking past, and let them know what spaces they can fit through. Cutting your cat’s whiskers removes these functions, leading to disorientation and reduced spatial awareness.
A loss of spatial awareness is a terrifying feeling for cats, especially when they’re used to having such attuned senses. Things will constantly creep up on them and make them jump, and their stress levels will skyrocket. Their life satisfaction has dropped dramatically, all by trimming their whiskers!
2. Loss of Balance
Trimming cat whiskers also causes a loss of balance. The proprioceptors that coordinate body position and movement are located at the end of each whisker. When you cut cats’ whiskers, you snip off these specialized receptors and thus lose this coordination. Your cat will struggle to balance and won’t land on its feet as readily.
It is in a cat’s nature to run, jump, and climb. Their wild instincts urge them to explore like it is human nature to walk and run. When the ability to do these things easily is taken away, your cat’s life will be less fulfilling and enriching. They might become bored and depressed.
3. Increased Accident Rate
Cats are much more likely to find themselves in accidents if their whiskers are removed or damaged. Their reduced spatial awareness makes it possible that your cat will get stuck between two fences and injure itself trying to get out. Loss of balance also means your cat is more likely to harm themselves when falling from a height.
Cats with trimmed whiskers have reduced nighttime vision as well. This increases the risk of being attacked by an undetected predator or hit by a car they don’t see coming their way. Whiskers are essential for protection; your cat is more vulnerable without them.
4. Pain & Discomfort
Do cat whiskers hurt when cut? This question is difficult to answer; trimming cat whiskers does cause cats pain, but not the physical pain we understand. When you cut cats’ whiskers, you’re not cutting through nerves themselves. The nerves are located in the follicles rather than the strands of hair, so cutting whiskers does not cause physical pain.
But whiskers are extremely sensitive and can detect tiny airflow changes. In fact, some cats like running water as they cannot bear their whiskers even touching the edges of the water bowl when they drink. You can get cat bowls for whisker fatigue to avoid this issue, but this highlights how sensitive cat’s whiskers are to touch.
Therefore you can only imagine how intense cutting the hair feels! Cutting whiskers sends a massive influx of overwhelming sensory information to the brain comparable to physical pain. Trimming whiskers will be an incredibly unpleasant experience for your cat and best avoided.
What Should I Do If I Accidentally Cut a Cat’s Whiskers?
You now know what happens if you cut a cat’s whiskers. They lose their spatial awareness, balance, and nighttime vision. This increased the likelihood of them getting into accidents while increasing mental anguish like stress, anxiety, and depression.
But what if you accidentally cut cat whiskers? What can you do to help your kitty? And will they be dealing with these issues forever, or do cat whiskers grow back if cut? Here is a step-by-step guide on what to do following the accidental whisker trimming.
1. Keep Your Cat Indoors
Your first step is to quarantine your cat inside immediately after cutting its whiskers. A whiskerless cat is likelier to find trouble or get in accidents. You don’t want your poor kitty to get injured, so you should keep your cat within the safe confines of your home.
Without whiskers, your cat might get stuck between two fences or up a tree on its great adventures. This could mean your cat never returns home! Don’t take the risk and keep your cat inside. This applies to all kinds of whisker damage, by the way – cuts, burns, and everything in between.
2. Protect from Further Damage
Your next step is to prevent further damage to your cat’s whiskers. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t make the same mistake and always trim your cat’s facial fur with caution. You can’t keep accidentally cutting whiskers, as the more you accidentally cut, the worse the symptoms.
Other steps can also be taken to prevent more damage. If you have kids, teach them how to handle cats properly and that whiskers should never be touched or pulled. If you have other pets that don’t get along with your cat, you might consider keeping them separate for the time being to avoid damage from fighting. Open flames shouldn’t be left unattended either to reduce the risk of burnt whiskers.
3. Keep Your Home Consistent
A loss of spatial awareness and disorientation happens if you cut a cat’s whiskers. Therefore, you need to keep your cat’s home environment as consistent as possible while they recover from the damage. Keep their food bowl, water bowl, and litter tray in the same place so your cat knows where to find them.
Avoid rearranging any of the furniture in your home, too. Adding unfamiliar objects your cat has to navigate only makes their lives harder. Without its whiskers to rely on, your cat will struggle with the new layout, increasing stress and the risk of accidents.
4. Be Patient While They Regrow
Whiskers are hairs and so eventually regrow. Therefore, your cat will gradually regain its sensory function and be able to navigate the world with ease once again. However, regrowth can take several months, depending on how much hair you cut away.
If you just trimmed the ends of your cat’s whiskers, you may only have to keep your furry friend inside for a few weeks. But if you cut whiskers away completely, you could wait up to three months for them to regrow. And remember, the length of your cat’s whiskers is essential. They are a near-exact match to your cat’s width, so you must wait until they’re fully regrown before letting your cat back outside.
Also, whiskers will not grow back if the hair follicles have been damaged. When trimming cat whiskers, damaged follicles are highly unlikely as you only cut the ends of the exposed hairs. But plucking the hairs or severe burns could cause damage to follicles. In these instances, you must keep your cat inside for life!
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
Your cat’s whiskers are so much more than hairs! They’re highly specialized hairs linked to multiple sensory receptors that provide vital information about the environment. They help cats hunt at night, be aware of predators, land on their feet, and navigate the world. They’re equally as crucial for fitting through small spaces and balancing on top of fences.
What happens if you cut a cat’s whiskers is that these functions are lost or at least reduced. Cats with trimmed whiskers are more likely to get into accidents, fall from a height, get stuck in small spaces, or fail to return home. There is also mental trauma for your kitty, who may become anxious and stressed without their whiskers there to guide them.
Thankfully, whiskers grow back just like normal hairs, so don’t panic if you accidentally cut your cat’s whiskers. You will need to keep your cat indoors until they regrow to full length and avoid making changes to the layout of your home. However, learn from your lesson – never cut your cat’s whiskers again and try to protect them from all other forms of damage too. Your cat will thank you!