Why Cats Have Whiskers
It is a little-known fact that cats have whiskers on the back of their front legs. Most owners might not notice them because the whiskers are not very long and do not stick out much, but they are there.
First, let’s consider the function of whiskers. Cats are best known for their muzzle whiskers -- the ones that jut out from either side of their faces. The whiskers fall off every so often, similar to human hair falling out to allow for regrowth. If that happens, take time to examine the whisker’s structure.
Whiskers are lightweight and very flexible. You cannot easily bend one and break it. The whisker itself is like a probe/antenna combo, picking up information that is received by a dense network of nerve cells at the end of each whisker. It’s amazing how cats are programmed to interpret this information. A cat prowling through a tight space knows exactly how wide it is, based on information picked up from the whiskers, which can effortlessly touch the sides of the enclosure long before the head itself is put at risk.
Whiskers also can detect vibrations, picking up the movement of small prey or the stirrings of a human. During hunting or defensive moments, the whiskers help your cat gain information about the other individual, without even seeing or otherwise touching the adversary.
As for the forelimb whiskers, Roger Tabor, author of Understanding Cat Behaviour, explains that these serve a similar function. Tabor says these often-overlooked whiskers “assist in stalking and in gauging landing from a leap.”
The next time you pet or groom your cat, feel the back of its front legs and see if you can find the whiskers. Like James Bond, your cat is outfitted with many such secret weapons to aid in its survival.