Cleo the calico. Photo by Susy Zustiak

Paws to Consider: ESP in cats … it’s not what you think

  • Saturday, April 3, 2021 2:32pm
  • Life

Olympic Peninsula Humane Society (OPHS) is very lucky to have a full-time veterinarian, vet tech and a stellar staff to care for our animals. They literally save many lives and are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to animal welfare. We are fortunate to have a passionate, animal-loving community on the Olympic Peninsula that supports our work.

To that end, we have decided to author a regular column about our furry friends that we hope you find enjoyable.

This month’s column is all about cat whiskers and is shared by our veterinarian, Dr. Susy Zustiak:

Did you know that cats have ESP? Well, maybe it’s not exactly what you are thinking. What we are referring to is extra sensory perception on a cat’s whiskers (also known as “vibrissae”)!

These extra thick hairs are more deeply rooted than regular hairs and are connected to the cat’s muscular and nervous structures. They send lots of sensory information about the cat’s surroundings to their brain.

Cat owners usually know that cats use their whiskers to determine whether they can fit into a certain space, but whiskers are actually much more sensitive and useful than that.

Whiskers can detect slight vibrations and changes in air flow which can help with hunting food and protecting them from possible harm.

Most notably, a cat’s whiskers are seen on their face and above their eyes, but cats also have whisker hairs under their chin and on the back of their front legs (carpal whiskers).

Even with a wide variety of whisker locations, cats can only control the movement of the dozen or so whiskers located on their upper lip. If you are attuned to the moods of your cat, you may notice that they flatten their whiskers back towards their face when they are not-so-happy, and will relax their whiskers into a grand display when they are relaxed and content.

Lastly, just like hairs, whiskers can eventually change color and they can also naturally fall out and grow back. So, don’t worry about finding a stray whisker or two that may have fallen out of your cat, they will grow a new one!

Luanne Hinkle has been the Executive Director of Olympic Peninsula Humane Society (OPHS) since December 2017 and has more than a decade of experience in executive-level positions leading major fundraising and program development efforts in the nonprofit arena. See ophumanesociety.org.

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