Why Do Cats Have Leg Whiskers?

We love cats for their adorable whiskers. Few people know that these do not have an aesthetic purpose but one that is so much more complex. Whiskers may appear similar to fur, but they are sensory organs that play an essential role in how cats interact with the environment. Cats have whiskers not only on their heads but also on the back of their front legs.

Cat Leg Whiskers Blue Lynx Mitted Ragdoll Cat Trigg Chiggy

These are called carpal whiskers, and they provide the cat with crucial information about the objects within their grasp and are very important when the cat is hunting.

Cat Leg Whiskers on Seal Mitted Ragdoll Cat Charlie

Here is everything you need to know about a cat’s leg whiskers.

What Are Whiskers and Why Are They Important?

At first glance, whiskers seem like a thicker version of the cat’s fur. However, cats have whiskers on both sides of the area, delimited by their mouths and noses. They also have whiskers above their eyes. These are known as vibrissae, sensory organs specialized in tactile sensing.

10-year old blue lynx mitted trigg chiggy outside on metal patio table. April 2020 cute IMG_2272

They are essential because they offer the cat information about the objects it is close to. To fully understand why this is crucial to the cat, remember that cats must be able to hunt and defend themselves, even at night or in dark places. Even if their sight is impaired, cats must be able to move and hunt, and their whiskers offer them the information they need. These small sensory organs act like a cat’s GPS or radar systems.

Blue point Ragdoll cat Bubbles lying on table showing his Whiskers

The whiskers on the cat’s face are much longer than the cat’s fur, even in cats with long coats. However, their length is not arbitrary. The whiskers on both sides of the cat’s mouth cover a distance almost equal to the cat’s width.

This is a significant characteristic because cats must be agile when hunting. To do this, they must be able to make fast decisions regarding their whereabouts and movements.

10-year old seal mitted Ragdoll cat Charlie outside April 2020 IMG_2245

The principle is simple – any space at least as wide as the length of their whiskers, from one side to the other, is a space where the cat fits. This is handy when cats run and have to go into narrow spaces. By using their whiskers, they can quickly determine if a space is too small for them to fit into, and this way, they can prevent getting stuck. This is extremely important when cats hunt.

How Whiskers Work

Whiskers are filled with minute sensory nerve endings that provide information about distance and space. This is how the cat can better understand the elements in their surrounding environment. It can use its whiskers to determine if a space is too small or narrow to fit inside or how far it needs to jump up or down to reach a designated point.

10-year old blue lynx mitted trigg chiggy outside April 2020 attacking a stick IMG_2297

Cats can move their whiskers to get more accurate information about objects. Each whisker has a set of muscles that support the individual movement of each whisker.

If you want to see whiskers in action, watch this video of how a cat’s whiskers move slowly. Filming this in slow motion was necessary because the movement was swift making it easy to miss with the naked eye.

Whiskers Complete the Cat’s Eyesight

Cats have incredibly acute eyesight, but this is mainly adapted for far-sight. In fact, cats are not able to see objects that are located closer than 12 inches to them in great detail.

This is where the whiskers come in. Since cats can’t rely on their keen eyesight for objects very close to them, like their prey, they use their whiskers to get more information. The vibrissae can move toward the object to collect detailed information about it.

10-year old blue lynx mitted trigg chiggy outside April 2020 attacking a stick IMG_2299

Cats that can’t see anymore can only move around a room using their whiskers. This is possible because these sensory organs are adapted to provide the cat with information about the movement and the location of the objects around it, even when visibility is low or absent. This adaptation comes from large felines that hunt at night, and rely on very acute senses to catch their prey.

What Are the Cat’s Leg Whiskers For?

Cat Leg Whiskers Blue Lynx Mitted Ragdoll Cat Trigg Chiggy IMG_2352

Now that you know the purpose and ability of whiskers, let’s go into the role of leg whiskers.

These are also known as carpal whiskers, even though some call them cat elbow whiskers because they are on the underside of the cat’s wrist. They give the cat information about objects within its grasp, like the cat’s prey.

This is how it happens – When a cat catches its prey, it uses its forelegs to hold it. As mentioned above, cats can’t see objects very close to them in great detail. This is why they have their leg whiskers.

Cat Leg Whiskers Seal Mitted Ragdoll Cat Charlie IMG_2365

These can determine very detailed information about the movement and location of the object that the cat is holding onto. The whiskers have a strong nervous component and send this information to the cat’s brain. If a cat holds its prey, it can determine detailed information about its position and movement via the leg whiskers.

This is extremely important because it helps the cat act very quickly as a response to the movement of its prey, which helps the cat be a better hunter.

Cat Leg Whiskers Seal Mitted Ragdoll Cat Charlie IMG_2361

While its forelegs are specialized in grasping the prey, its hind legs are specialized in another part of hunting – killing and disemboweling the prey. With the information from the carpal whiskers about the position of the prey it is grasping, the cat can use its hind legs to kick and scratch at its prey’s belly area. Cat owners are incredibly familiar with this type of movement of the hind legs, also known as pumping. They use their forelegs to immobilize the prey and their hind legs to pump and pump.

Cat Leg Whiskers Seal Mitted Ragdoll Cat Charlie IMG_2357

You may have seen your pet cat doing this with toys, pillows, or even your arm. This behavior we identify as playing comes from the cat’s hunting abilities.

Whiskers FAQs

Here are a few commonly asked questions about cats’ leg whiskers:

Are whiskers the same as fur?

No, they are not. Even though whiskers appear to be thicker hair follicles, they have very different structures. Whiskers are sensory organs, and they have a powerful nervous component. Moreover, they are also mobile, so each whisker has a set of muscles at the base to permit its movement. Aside from this, whiskers go much deeper into the skin than hair follicles do. While fur goes up to the dermis, whiskers go to the hypodermis.

Do whiskers grow back?

Yes, they do. It takes much longer than it does for a cat’s fur to grow back, but whiskers also share the ability to regenerate. In various traumas, a cat’s whiskers can be affected – torn, pulled off, or burnt – but, in time, they will grow back. So, if your cat loses its whiskers, don’t worry; they will grow back in time.

Why shouldn’t you cut or trim a cat’s whiskers?

Whiskers are not fur; they are sensory organs. They are connected to the nervous and muscular systems. When they come into contact with an object, they can detect its proximity, texture, and size. When you cut or trim the whiskers on a cat’s body, you damage these sensory organs and prevent the cat from using them. Therefore, you shouldn’t trim, cut, pluck, curl, bend, or color a cat’s whiskers.

Does it hurt cats to trim their whiskers?

Like hair, if you cut a cat’s whiskers, it will not feel pain. This is because even though whiskers are a sensory tool, they do not have nociceptors (pain receptors) on their surface, so the cat will not get a pain stimulus if the whiskers are damaged. However, trimming or cutting a cat’s whiskers may result in secondary damage because the cat will have to do without these sensory organs.

However, if you pluck a cat’s whiskers, it will feel pain because the root of the whiskers does have pain receptors. So, just like it hurts when hair is plucked, it also hurts when whiskers are plucked.

But considering that whiskers have a much more developed nervous and vascular component and are rooted all the way to the hypodermis, the pain that the cat will feel when a whisker is plucked will be far greater than the pain it feels when a hair is plucked. So, don’t pluck your cat’s whiskers because you will be causing it a great deal of pain.

What happens when you cut off a cat’s whiskers?

Cutting off a cat’s whiskers means depriving them of a sensory organ that is very important to them. This will have several effects. First, the cat will be exposed to injuries and trauma because it can no longer detect proximity.

They will not be able to move around correctly or defend themselves from surrounding objects. They might get stuck in various openings because they cannot detect whether or not they can fit into them.

Secondly, the cat will experience difficulty in movement; they will be disoriented and walk slowly and insecurely. Not being able to use their whiskers will also affect their mood. They might become insecure, agitated, and scared.

These effects may be barely noticeable or intense depending on how many of the cat’s whiskers are affected. For example, suppose the cat still has enough whiskers left to provide tactile information. In that case, these effects can be noticed at a low intensity.

However, if most or all of the cat’s whiskers are affected, then the effects will all be present at a high intensity. In time, they will grow back, and the cat’s sensory abilities will be fully restored.

Do cats have whiskers on their back legs?

No, they do not. They have whiskers on the back of their front legs, which provide information about the position of their prey. Their back legs play a different role in the cat’s hunting behavior. They use their hind legs to kick and scratch at their prey to disembowel it.

Do cats have whiskers on their body?

No, they do not have whiskers all over their bodies. Instead, cats have whiskers on their heads – on their whisker pads, located between the corners of the mouths and the outer edges of the nose, above their eyes, and on the back of their forelegs.

As you can see, a cat’s whiskers are extremely important because they are sensory organs. A cat’s leg whiskers are essential for hunting and interacting with the environment. Whiskers act like a cat’s GPS system, allowing them to move around even when they can’t see.

Have you noticed your cat’s leg whiskers? What about the whiskers above its eyes? Have you ever seen your cat shed its whiskers? Have you ever seen your cat move its whiskers? Tell us all about it in the comments section below.

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Hi, I’m Jenny Dean, creator of Floppycats! Ever since my Aunt got the first Ragdoll cat in our family, I have loved the breed. Inspired by my childhood Ragdoll cat, Rags, I created Floppycats to connect, share and inspire other Ragdoll cat lovers around the world,

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  1. Ali Shabbir Hussain says:

    I am making a youtube video on “25 facts about cats”. Thanks for providing this information about whiskers. I will give a reference to your article in my video. It will be on my youtube channel “How About This ?”

    1. I would be interested in the link to see if you did give reference/credit

  2. Alisha Kirshman says:

    This was great!!! I’ve had kitties my whole life (40 years of fur babies) and have NEVER noticed leg whiskies until this morning on my newly adopted kitty baby…and I was like wtf is something wrong with her!!! Why are they there!!! So thankyou!!!

    1. Ha Ha Ha – “wtf is wrong with her”….it’s very normal =)

      1. My cat has whiskers on his hind legs!

  3. Nancy & Robert Grossman says:

    As ALWAYS, Jenny, great information!! I look forward to your weekly newsletter. You, Charlie and Trigg are always entertaining!! Thanks for keeping ALL CAT LOVERS informed.

    1. This is awesome, I noticed the whiskers on the back my cat’s forearms/legs about a year ago. SHE adopted ME about three years ago, her name is Coo, she’s a fairly small cat and very intelligent. She even jumps and hangs from doorknobs trying to open them..lol! Anyway, I did some research and found out all kinds of fascinating stuff. When chasing prey, gives them information about the terrain they’re traversing, movement of the prey as they struggle so the cat can better subdue it, and several other things I can’t remember right now. Over the eye, face and lip whiskers…can I get my head in there safely or possibly my whole body? Cats are incredibly tuned in to their surroundings! They’re incredible creatures! I’m always waiting to see what my little Coo will do next, she cracks me up! Side note, I had a 28 pound yellow and white tomcat when I was younger, loved him so much! RIP big boy. Whole other story. Hey, loved reading this and the comments, thanks! Look forward to reading more. Y’all take care and have a great day!

  4. This was an absolutely fascinating, Jenny! I learned so much. The description of how they use their whiskers for understanding where something is reminded me of how dolphins similar use sonar.

    1. that’s a perfect comparison – a dolphin’s use of sonar!

  5. SUPER PAWESOME, FASCINATING & FABULOUS post, Jenny honey! WOW! I NEVER even KNEW the leg whiskers existed! I have NEVER noticed them on Miss PSB. You can bet I am going to go look for them right meow…lol! Great info! Very well done! TYSVM!!! 🙂 <3

    Big hugs & lots of love & purrs!

    Patti & Miss Pink Sugarbelle 🙂 <3 <3 <3

    1. =) yes – leg whiskers often go unnoticed because they blend in with the fur – especially on blues =)

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