Finally, the last of the five senses: touch! This is a crucial sense for cats and, like all the other senses, has been honed to perfect their role as efficient predators. A cat’s sense of touch is enhanced by long whiskers which protrude from their head and body and sets of paw pads which adorn the bottom of their feet.
What about those whiskers?
Basically, whiskers are far-reaching touch receptors. These longer, stiffer hairs are embedded more deeply into a cat’s body than their shorter fur coat and are connected securely to their sensitive muscular and nervous systems. Whiskers send information about the cat’s surroundings directly to their sensory nerves, helping cats detect and respond to changes in their surroundings.
A cat’s whiskers are the most prominent around its nose and mouth. In addition to the 8 to 12 whiskers that a cat has on either side of its nose, they also have shorter whiskers above their eyes, below their chin, and behind their lower front legs. As discussed in a previous newsletter, cats can’t see well up close, so they need to sense whether they’ve properly caught their prey. Whiskers help them “see” this better.
Cats also use their whiskers to detect the location, size, and texture of objects, even in the dark. This proves particularly useful for a cat trying to gauge whether it can fit into a tight space. Whiskers can also detect changes in air currents, helping cats detect approaching dangers or potential prey.
Unfortunately, certain interactions with whiskers can also prevent cats from eating normally. Deep food bowls can press on a cat’s whiskers, which may disturb them and keep them from eating. To prevent this, it is best to feed cats from short-sided or wide-and-flat bowls.
Normally, whiskers shed on a regular basis, but usually not more than one or two at a time. Whiskers should never be cut or trimmed, as cats need them to navigate their environment. Also, some cats may not enjoy having their whiskers touched, so be mindful!
How about those paw pads?
Paw pads are more than just tiny shock absorbers for cats. While that is part of their function, they are also very sensitive. Much like whiskers, they contain large concentrations of nerve receptors, making them finely tuned for hunting. Cats can feel texture, pressure, and even vibrations through their paw pads.
Since they are so sensitive, paw pads are also vulnerable to environmental damage. The soft pads are not insulated and can be injured by hot pavement, extreme cold, or ragged surfaces. If your cat goes outdoors, you may consider keeping them indoors until excessive heat or cold passes.
We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about how cats perceive touch, and overall, about all their senses in this series! Let us know if you have any questions. Thank you very much, and we’ll see you next time! =^_^=