A cat’s whiskers are vital: they provide felines with crucial information about their surroundings. Whiskers are scientifically known as vibrissae, which means to vibrate. Cats usually have 24 whiskers, arranged in rows of four. However, accidents and other mishaps could cause them to become deformed, broken or curled.
Why are my cat’s whiskers curling?
It could be down to the cat’s breed.
Certain cat breeds have naturally curly whiskers. These include the Devon Rex, Cornish Rex and Selkirk Rex breeds. Cats with curly fur tend to have curly whiskers, although this may vary from one cat to another.
Your cat is fond of rubbing her face on things.
Another reason your cat’s whiskers are curling could be that she has a habit of rubbing her face on things. Some cats tend to rub against furniture, the edges of walls, or other objects in the home. The friction from the constant rubbing may cause the whiskers to curl.
Your cat got too close to something hot.
Your cat’s whiskers may be curling because of an untoward incident caused by curiosity. For instance, she may have got too near to the fireplace or a lighted candle. This is nothing to be worried about since the whiskers will eventually grow back to their normal shape.
What are whiskers?
Whiskers are vital sensory tools made up of keratin, which is the same substance as human hair. They are two to three times thicker than the cat’s regular fur, and are super-sensitive motion sensors. Each whisker has at least 100 to 200 nerve cells constantly receiving signals.
The follicles of whiskers are securely attached to the cat’s muscular and nervous systems. Information about the environment is gathered by the whiskers and transmitted to the cat’s nerves, helping it to understand what is happening around it and how best to respond to any changes.
Benefits of a cat’s whiskers:
- They act as body balancers.
- They function as radar sensors.
- They communicate emotions.
- They alert cats to obstructions in their path.
A cat’s whiskers feel the space around them and report back to the body on the location and nature of objects as they touch them. Whiskers also sense changes in air currents, and the vibrations made by currents warn cats of imminent danger.
Do not touch or cut your cat’s whiskers if you can help it, since they use them to “see” the world. Blind cats rely on their whiskers to be their vision and guide them. They can navigate rooms with the help of their whiskers that give them a sense of where they are spatially.
What happens if your cat’s whiskers are broken?
Your cat becomes disoriented and will have changes in her behavior.
Cats with broken whiskers tend to avoid interaction with humans and may hide under the bed or in a secluded area at home. Your cat may not be confident to move about and may feel insecure.
Your cat becomes more prone to accidents.
If her whiskers are broken, your cat is more prone to injury and accidents.
Your cat becomes stressed.
Cats tend to become stressed and anxious when they are disoriented. The bad news is that stress could lead to a further loss of whiskers.
What are the causes of broken or shedding cat whiskers?
- Cats playing too rough with each other.
- Natural shedding.
- Injury or trauma.
- Infections or medical issues such as alopecia or hyperthyroidism
- Non-medical reasons such as catfights and grooming accidents
What is whisker fatigue?
Cats can suffer from whisker fatigue due to overstimulation of the whiskers’ sensory system. If the whiskers are touched a lot, such as when they brush against food and water dishes, the cat’s brain receives an overload of sensory messages that are transmitted to the brain. This can make your cat stressed and agitated.
Your cat may then refuse to eat or drink from the usual dishes, and might pace restlessly in front of the bowls while meowing. She may also paw at the food and water and try to pull it from the bowl. She may also act more aggressively in the presence of food or treats.
Whiskers are essential for cats since they function as radar sensors and body balancers. They also alert cats to any obstructions on their path, and help communicate emotions.
If you notice that your cat’s whiskers are curling, do not panic. Your cat may just be fond of rubbing her face on things, or might have got too close to a lighted candle. It could also just be her breed, because some breeds such as the Cornish Rex have naturally curly whiskers.
Image: istockphoto.com / Amanda Walker