Besides their adorable little toe beans, a cat’s whiskers are one of the cutest features on a cat. They’re also the most recognizable trait of a cat.
You may have noticed your kitty shedding their whiskers. You find one around your apartment and consider sticking it back on their face, but it’s too late. The whisker has shed. Now you may be worried. Will their whisker grow back? What if it doesn’t? What are whiskers even for?
The Function of Whiskers in a Cat
The whiskers of a cat are very similar to an insect’s antennae. They detect changes in their environment. Whiskers are very sensitive tactile hairs, and they can detect the slightest change in air current.
Whiskers also help your cat maintain their balance. These long extensions of their nervous system transmit information to the cat’s brain about their position and orientation. Whiskers are part of the reason why cats always land on their feet.
Cats don’t have the best eyesight, and their whiskers help them map out the world around them as if they had 20/20 vision. This mapping helps cats navigate in the dark, and it also protects them from entering areas that are too small for them to escape from.
Will Fluffy’s Whiskers Grow Back?
These specialized hairs on a cat’s face are just that–hair. They are made of the same protein, known as keratin, as any other hair on your cat’s body.
The whisker will eventually grow back. Whiskers are two to three times the diameter of any other hair on a cat’s body, so they take more keratin to grow.
This will cause the whisker to grow in much more slowly than a regular hair. While it may take a while to notice it growing back, the whisker will eventually come back.
The rest of the hair on your cat’s body can take up to three months to grow back to its original length after being shed. Whiskers take at least three months to grow back.
Everything is a bit slower with senior cats, and their whisker growth time is no exception. If your cat is in the double digits, it may take closer to six months for the whisker to grow back.
Whiskers may also never grow to be the same length that they originally were. Your cat may adapt to life without the whisker, and its body may not send signals to regrow it fully.
If only the end of the whisker is lopped off, the cat’s brain may not be aware that the whisker is gone. While a lack of whiskers will disorient your cat exponentially, missing the end of one won’t affect them too much. Your cat’s body might not even notice it’s gone, or it will notice that it doesn’t make much of a difference, and it will refrain from sending extra keratin that way.
Can I Put it Back?
It may be hilarious to turn your cat into a unicorn by sticking a fallen whisker on their forehead, but you can’t put the whisker back where it was. Have you ever tried to put one of your hairs back on your head after it has fallen out? It wasn’t a successful mission, was it?
Hairs are thicker at the root than any other part of the strand. Once the thick root leaves the hair follicle, it immediately contracts. If it didn’t hold constant tension on the hair strand, hairs could be ripped out by a gentle breeze.
Once the hair follicle shrinks, there’s no way to open it up from the surface. It will be pushed back open when keratin production builds up and produces a new hair. The new hair will rise out of the shaft, and the root of the hair will keep it anchored.
Try as you might, you won’t be able to stick the whisker back into the follicle. Follicles are also incredibly tiny, so there’s a slim chance that you would even be able to see which follicle the whisker came out of.
Should Whiskers Be Trimmed?
We’ve established that whiskers are just super incredible hairs. However, they should never be trimmed.
If you were to trim your cat’s whiskers, you would disorient them. Without whiskers, a cat’s spatial awareness would be compromised. They could lose track of where they are and how they got to that point.
They could also attempt to enter spaces that they won’t be able to get out of, causing injury to the cat.
Without whiskers to help the cat align itself as it is falling, a fall from a high place could be deadly for your cat.
There is never a reason to trim your cat’s whiskers, so don’t do it.
Proper Whisker Care
Now that you know how important your cat’s whiskers are to their safety, you should do your best to ensure their whiskers are not compromised. The best way to do that? Leave them alone.
Cats are hailed as the only self-grooming pet. This takes a lot of stress off of cat owners because they don’t have to worry about regular baths. This statement doesn’t apply to anyone who owns a Sphynx, but most Sphynx don’t have whiskers either.
There are times in a cat’s life when they need to be groomed by a human. This can happen as your cat gets older and doesn’t have the energy to clean themselves, or if they’ve happened to get into something that they shouldn’t lick off their bodies.
In the rare event that you need to groom your cat, take extra caution near the whiskers. The whiskers do not need to be brushed, as other hairs do. If a cat’s whisker becomes dirty and you don’t think that your kitty is up for the job: take a washcloth dampened with warm water and gently wipe the whisker moving outwards. Attempting to scrub against the grain could cause the cat’s whisker(s) to fall out.
Make sure your feline is enjoying a nutrient-dense diet with the correct amount of protein. Keratin is a protein, so they need to consume protein in order to make more proteins.