Dear Dr. Universe: Why do cats lose their whiskers? – Nisi, 10, Nampa, Idaho

Dear Nisi,

Just like humans, us cats lose hair. Have you ever brushed your hair and found that some ends up on the brush? Sometimes human hair falls out. It is the body’s way of shedding, or getting rid of dead skin and hair.

Cats shed hair and whiskers. I love a good brushing. Maybe your cat likes getting brushed, too. Sometimes when it gets hot outside, I start losing some of my hair and it helps me stay cool.

Besides normal shedding, cats can lose hair and whiskers for other reasons. I talked to my friend, Raelynn Farnsworth, who is a veterinarian at Washington State University and loves small animals. She said that sometimes if cats are stressed they lose their hair or whiskers.

Moving to a new house or getting a new pet, like another cat or a dog, can make us cats stressed. Sometimes this will cause us to lose our hair. If cats have allergies sometimes they will lose their hair and whiskers, too.

My friend Farnsworth said that whiskers are really important to us cats. We use them for balance so we won’t fall off when walking along something like a skinny fence top.

It’s important to know to never pull or cut your cat’s whiskers. As a cat myself, I know I wouldn’t want anybody cutting off my whiskers. I need them just like you need your toes. Did you know that human toes help us balance? Without them, it would be really hard to stand up.

My cat friends are silly and sometimes think they can fit into a box that is too small for them. Whiskers help us figure out if we can fit into small places or not.

Cat whiskers are so sensitive that they can feel when the wind hits them. This sensitivity also helps us navigate up close. We have a hard time seeing things close to our face. Whiskers help us see what’s in front of us.

My whiskers are as wide as my body which is how they help me fit into small spaces. If I’m trying to get into a small hole, I’ll stick my nose and whiskers in first to see if I fit. If my whiskers don’t fit, I’ll have to find another way.

Some cats get grumpy and whiskers will help show it. If a cat’s whiskers are flattened against her face then she’s trying to tell you she’s not happy. You probably do not want to pet a cat that looks like this.

We also have whiskers on other parts of our body besides our face. We have whiskers above our eyes, on our chin, and even on our front legs.

Sincerely,

Bailey Campbell (and Dr. Universe)

 

3 fun facts about cats:

  • Cats can only sweat through their paws
  • Cats have five toes on each front paw, and four toes on each back paw.
  • Cats have a rough, sand-paper like tongue

Bailey Campbell contributed this article. She is a student in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.