Cat's Whiskers

Regarding, Ken doesn’t explain how a cat uses its whiskers to gauge distances and so on. Does anybody know? Do they use their whiskers as a standard size, and then their eyes compare various objects to that standard?

Just curious. Hope that doesn’t kill me.

I can’t answer that one, but I have a somewhat related question - when I was young, some sadistic playmates of mine showed me that when you tie something around a cat’s tummy, it screws up its balance big-time! They used the leg from a nylon if I remember correctly.

If a cat’s balance is purely controlled by the inner ear, why would tying something around its middle have had this admittedly hilarious effect?

Rittersport, the whiskers help the cat feel its way through narrow places in the dark by… yup, feel. The cat can feel a very light touch upon the whiskers, and will know by the sensation whether it can fit through the detected strait. Sort of like you carrying a stick held horizontally in front of you when walking through a pitch-dark house – you’d know if a doorway were (a) there, and (b) passable.

Cats also have whiskerlike hairs that project above their eyes. These aren’t eyelashes (they have those but they’re hard to see). These serve the same purpose as the whiskers, in terms of vertical clearance.

PiscesPrincess, I suspect what you were seeing when those bullies tied the strap around the cat’s stomach was not a balance problem. Rather it was the cat’s frantic attempts to twist around to the THING gripping it and teat it off – in the course of which the poor cat would whirl and fall over on its side. I suppose it distracted those kids from pulling wings of insects for a while.

Oops! That should be “tear it off”, not “teat”. Also, the correct term for a cat’s whiskers and the long single hairs above its eyes is vibrissae (singular vibrissa).

I’m an expert on whiskerless cats–'cause I lived with 2 Siamese. The male was very intelligent, (he learned how to open the door of my apt), and the female was so stupid she didn’t remember where her food dish was. They always curled up and slept together, and licked each others ears, etc. Real cutesy,and normal --except that the female also bit the whiskers off of the male! The female literally bit them in two, and he didnt seem to care at all.He looked really weird-- he had dark fur on his nose that made the white whiskers stand out–but the whiskers were less than a half inch long.
It didn’t seem to affect his behavior in any way.

Yes, our ‘dominant’ male cat has bitten off the whiskers of the two female cats. We weren’t sure if he thought he was cleaning them, or what.

He, of course, has luxuriously long whiskers himself…

Oddly enough, he’s easily the least graceful of them all. :slight_smile:

what about dogs? I have a dog, which can catch tennis balls thrown into the air. He’d jump up, and catch in mid-air.

Then i noticed he’d be failing, seeminly misjudging his jump. I noticed his whiskers were all cockeyed. I trimmed them, (barely snipping off the end so they were straight), then he was back to his old self.

when I was young, some sadistic playmates of mine showed me that when you tie something around a cat’s tummy, it screws up its balance big-time!

Ok PiscesPrincess, I think your perception of this situation may have been wrong. This poor guy was probably walking funny because he was trying to walk with something obstructing his movement. Kinda like how a person will walk funny if they wear really tight clothes for the first time. Or his stomach muscles could have been sore from the ordeal and that made him move like he had no balance.
I a vet tech and I have three cats, all retired alley cats. My oldest, Jake, had worms really bad when I caught him in a live trap. Treating him for these parasites made him puke a lot and he walked like he was off-balance. Anyone who has had a back case of the stomach flu can sympathise.

We tried the “tie something around the tummy” thing briefly on our very placid cuddly kitten, who puts up with anything. Note - we would never have tried it on our other little guy, he’s too skittish and would have been upset.

It had no effect whatsoever. Possibly, not being sadists, we didn’t tie it tight enough to upset him. He just wandered about looking cute in a fetching purple silk scarf belt for a few minutes, until we decided it was obviously an urban legend and took it off.

Dr. Paul Leyhausen, back in the 1970s, noticed that when a cat carries prey in its mouth, its vibrissae sort of “envelop” it–possibly keeping track of it by touch.