Our cats may no longer be fending for themselves, so using whiskers to hunt shouldn't be a necessity. It's said that if a cat's whiskers touch a mouse in the dark, the cat reacts with the speed and precision of a mousetrap. But if they're not hunting mice, they don't need them, right? As it turns out, that's not exactly the case.
Whiskers serve as delicate sense organs of touch and are the equivalent to our fingertips. These whiskers are sensitive to vibrations in air currents: As the air moves, the whiskers vibrate, and cats use messages in these vibrations to sense the presence, size and shape of nearby objects.
Whiskers are more than twice as thick as ordinary hairs, and their roots are set three times deeper. They are connected to muscle, which allows them to be moved backwards and forwards, and the bottom two rows can move independently of the top two. Whiskers are richly supplied with nerve endings, making each an intricate receptor that allows your cat to sense even the smallest changes in the environment, such as air currents, changes in air pressure,temperature or wind direction.
The whiskers are the same width as your cat's body and are used as locators by judging how wide a place is before entering, consequently helping him to determine whether he can fit through small spaces. The length of the whiskers are genetically predetermined, so if your cat becomes fatter, he will lose this function.
Hunting cats can move their whiskers back and forth to collect information about the prey. For example, whiskers can reach forward to give information about the captive creature in their mouths. Your cat can determine if the prey is still alive so that he can apply an accurate killing bite. He also knows whether or not he can put the captured animal down. A cat whose whiskers have been damaged may bite the wrong part of the mouse he's attacking.
Your cat's whiskers are not just a part of his good looks; they fulfill functions of vital importance by supplying sensory information about his environment and his prey and are essential to his survival. If you pay attention, you will gain a deeper respect for the amazing sensitive world of your cat's whiskers.
*This information was gathered from an article by Virginia Wells. "Whiskers:Your Cat's Finger on the World"