March 2010 Issue

Your Cat’s Whiskers

She can use them to hunt, to navigate her environment and even to convey her moods. Hereís how they work.

The old-fashioned term "the catís whiskers" means the height of perfection or first-rate. Popular in the 1920s, this expression, along with "the catís meow," referred to the daring flappers described as "impossible to shock." While the term is American in origin, people have disagreed over who deserves credit for coining it. Regardless, the phraseís meaning shows that the people who first used the expressions certainly understood the unique capabilities of your felineís most sensitive hairs. Cat whiskers ó also called tactile hairs ó are found on your catís eyebrows, chin, cheeks and in an area behind its forelegs above the paw. They are two to three times thicker than other hairs and taper to a fine, flexible tip. Approximately 12 of these stiff bristles align in four rows that protrude from either side of the catís muzzle. The top row moves independently of the middle row.

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