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Many cat parents already know the cool scientific facts behind cat whiskers — they do tons of strange-but-true things like gauging spatial relations (for example: “Can I really fit into that little hole?”) and helping to capture prey. But few know the folklore and stories — real and imagined — behind your cat’s cool sensory accessory. So, are cat whiskers good luck? See some of our favorite cat myths involving whiskers below, and what we deem as true and false.

What can you use cat whiskers for?

They work as vibration sensors. Your cat’s whiskers can sense vibrations in the air, making them incredibly useful when measuring distances or chasing prey. Additionally, they can also detect changes in air currents, enabling them to sense approaching dangers – making them sort of like their very own radar.

Should I keep my cats whiskers?

False. This one is false, and you should never cut or trim a kitty’s whiskers — they’re packed with sensory nerves and even a small whisker styling could seriously hurt your feline.

What happens if you cut a cat's whiskers off?

When a cat’s whiskers are trimmed, it sometimes becomes disoriented and has difficulty getting about. Even if a missed whisker will grow back, the cat will lack it. It’s like chopping off the tips of our fingertips as we trim our whiskers. … Cut whiskers cause a cat to feel disoriented and frightened.

Is it bad to touch a cat's whiskers?

Touching a cat’s whiskers doesn’t hurt, but pulling them does. The long, thick hairs that curve so gracefully from a cat’s muzzle and above the eyes are not just decorations — they’re more like antennae or “feelers.” They help the cat navigate, balance and keep out of trouble.

The whiskers, known as vibrissae, are essential to the cat. They help it find its way in the dark, judge the space between objects and even sense the approach of a predator.

Each whisker is connected to muscular and nervous systems, and are extremely sensitive and fine-tuned, sending messages to the brain. If you ever wonder why it’s hard to sneak up on your cat, you can blame his whiskers, which act like an early warning system. Cats also have a sensory organ at the end of their whiskers called a proprioceptor, which also sends messages to the brain.

Animals Pets 10 Facts You Didn’t Know About Cat Whiskers By Melissa Breyer Melissa Breyer Editorial Director Hunter College F.I.T., State University of New York Cornell University Melissa Breyer is Treehugger’s editorial director. She is a sustainability expert and author whose work has been published by the New York Times and National Geographic, among others. Learn about our editorial process Updated March 30, 2021 Chris Winsor / Getty Images Share Twitter Pinterest Email Animals Wildlife Pets Animal Rights Endangered Species Whether cats are cute because of their whiskers or whiskers are cute because they come on cats, one thing is certain: The two make an irresistibly adorable combination. Some whiskers are exuberant, like the grand mustache of a Victorian gentleman, while others are demure and flirtatious. Whatever form they take, these feline facial bristles are so much more than vestigial accessories; in fact, cats would be hard-pressed to perform many of their formidable feats without them. Here are some little-known facts about their spectacular, specialized hairs. 1. “Whisker” Is an Old Word The word “whisker” dates back to around 1600. It was formed from the Middle English word “wisker,” anything that whisks or sweeps, and was originally used to describe a human mustache or beard. Not long after, it also became the word for the antennaelike hair of animals — and why not? Your cat’s facial hair is, by all accounts, like a miniature broom. 2. They Are Thicker Than Hair Omaly Darcia / 500px / Getty Images Also called “vibrissae” or tactile hairs, whiskers are two to three times thicker than regular cat hair and have roots three times deeper. Those found on either side of the muzzle are called mystacial whiskers, but they also have them on their jaws, above their eyes, near the ears, and on the back of their forelegs — all places a cat would need to gather information about its surroundings, including, in the wild, its prey. 3. Cats Have a Set Number of Mystacial Whiskers Cats typically have 24 mystacial whiskers — 12 on each cheek, arranged in four horizontal rows of three. These are the longest of the facial vibrissae, and while some cats can have more than 24, the total number should always be even. It’s important that the whiskers are distributed symmetrically on either side of its face so that the cat can get an accurate read of its environment. 4. They Are Sensitive Unlike human hair, a cat’s whiskers are deeply embedded and connected to the nervous system. The tips of these keratin threads are equipped with sensory organs called proprioceptors that send messages to the brain and help the cat determine an object’s distance, direction, and even surface texture. They’re akin to a human’s sense of smell or vision, and this is why a cat’s whiskers should never be cut. 5. Cats Can Have Whisker Stress A cat’s whiskers are so sensitive, in fact, that if it’s required to use a narrow food or water bowl, the pressure to its tactile hairs can cause what is known as “whisker stress.” This kind of fatigue is often a result of the cat’s whiskers bumping up against the sides of its dish. If your cat is scooping food out with its paw or knocking food on the floor to eat, consider getting a wider bowl. 6. Whisker Size Corresponds to the Size of the Cat Hugo Cattelain / EyeEm / Getty Images A cat’s whiskers are proportionate to the width of its body (hair included); it uses them to know whether or not it can fit through narrow spaces. In general, the chubbier or fluffier a cat is, the longer its whiskers. A Maine coon cat — the largest domesticated cat breed — may have six-inch-long whiskers, whereas the almost hairless Cornish Rex’s are typically extremely short and curly. A Finland-based Maine coon cat named Fullmoon’s Miss American Pie (aka “Missi”) holds the record for the longest whiskers in the world. In 2005, the Guinness World Records measured them at a whopping seven and a half inches long. 7. Leg Whiskers Help With Hunting If a cat uses its facial whiskers for sizing up spaces and detecting objects, then what does it use leg whiskers for? The sensory tendrils located at the back of its front legs, on the undersides of its wrists, are called carpal whiskers; they help the cat climb trees and kill prey. When they’re holding a mouse, say, in their front paws, those whiskers let the cat know whether its catch is still moving (because they can’t see well up close) and whether it’s in a position favorable to delivering a fatal bite. 8. Cats Can Move Them Alexandra Jursova / Getty Images Each mystacial whisker is connected to a muscle “sling,” which allows the cat to move them independently. Likewise, large muscles surrounding the whiskers are used to move them all as one. The cat may fan out or direct its whiskers forward when hunting or yawning. They can be pulled back against a cat’s cheeks, too. 9. Whiskers Reveal a Cat’s Mood Relaxed and droopy whiskers that point out to the sides of the cat’s face indicate a content animal, but a cat whose whiskers are pinned back is likely scared, according to the University of Melbourne. A forward position with ears erect and pointing forward may indicate alertness (as is the case with hunting), while a forward whisker position with ears back is usually a sign of aggression. 10. They Shed Whiskers should never be trimmed, but they do go through natural growth, dormancy, and shedding phases, just like fur. Finding a lost whisker around the house now and again is completely normal — they grow back on their own. If you notice a sudden increase in shed whiskers, however, it could mean your cat is suffering from allergies, an infection, trauma, or cat acne (yes, that’s a thing).

1. Myth: Are cat whiskers good luck, in general?

Keeping your cat’s whiskers or using them as good-luck talismans? You’re not taking the crazy cat lady/cat man thing to the next level. Just as human parents do with baby teeth, tons of cat moms and dads treasure cat whiskers as keepsakes from their fur babies. Since cats don’t shed whiskers very often (if your cat is losing whiskers frequently, contact your vet), finding one is thought to be good luck. Cat owners put Fluffy’s fallen whiskers in jars, inside their purses or tape them to computer monitors as symbols of good fortune — and subtle reminders of their feline family members, no matter where their days take them.

2. Myth: Are cat whiskers good luck for avoiding or escaping car accidents “by a whisker”?

Take the cat whisker keepsake thing to the next level — some spells say putting a cat whisker in a white bag inside of your car will guard against accidents, thieves, mechanical problems and tickets.

3. Myth: Cat whiskers are powerful in other spells, too

Cats have often been associated with witches and witchcraft, so it makes sense that cat whiskers are prevalent in a few spells used for guidance, balance, travel, eye health and getting out of tight situations.