People trim their cats’ claws, people groom their cats’ coats… But what about whiskers? What happens when you trim a cat’s whiskers, do cat whiskers hurt when cut, and do you ever need to do it?
Should you trim a cat’s whiskers? You shouldn’t. There’s no need to, as whiskers fall out on their own, so there’s no danger of them getting too long. Cutting a cat’s whiskers can leave it disoriented, because cats use their whiskers to navigate spaces, fit through gaps and sense things that are in front of them. While whiskers are simply thick hairs, meaning it doesn’t hurt to cut them, you can accidentally hurt your cat by pulling on them with blunt scissors, or pulling on them when the cat tries to get away. It’s not common practise anywhere in the world to cut a cat’s whiskers, and you shouldn’t do it either.
The guide below first looks at the reasons why people consider cutting their cats’ whiskers, before looking at all the reasons you shouldn’t.
Why Should You Trim a Cat’s Whiskers?
To some people, the idea of trimming a cat’s whiskers is an odd one. But people don’t do it for no reason.
Are Cats’ Whiskers Supposed to Be Long?
Cats’ whiskers are supposed to be long. But you may be worried that they’re growing too long.
Cats are great at grooming themselves. But for one reason or another, sometimes cats get a little lax with their hygiene and grooming. Your cat might be sick, for example; or it might have injured itself in a fight or in a fall. Or your cat might be getting older, or it might be too young to groom itself. In each of these circumstances, you may take on extra grooming duties, like brushing your cat more frequently or taking care of its teeth.
You may also think that you need to trim your cat’s whiskers, as now your cat is unable to groom them for itself. As we’ll come to later, this isn’t necessary, but it may be the reason you thought to trim your cat’s whiskers in the first place.
You Can Style Them
Everybody knows that whiskers are hairs, albeit special hairs. So, you might be tempted to style them like you would style your own hair.
You might want to make your cat’s whiskers a particular shape by cutting them, for example. You could make them short so that your cat stands out in a crowd, or have some short and some long; or you might just want them to have a neat end instead of being thinner at the outer tip.
Alternatively, you might want to curl them like you would curl your eyelashes. You could give them a cute curl at the end so that they look like a royal mustache. Or better still, you might want to dye them any one of a thousand crazy colors, or just something that complements your cat’s coat.
The motivation for doing these things is obvious. What’s less obvious is why these are bad ideas.
Is It Illegal to Cut a Cat’s Whiskers?
It isn’t illegal to cut a cat’s whiskers. You won’t get in trouble for doing so, despite all the reasons listed below.
It could potentially, though, be considered alongside other issues that are categorized as animal abuse. Say for example that a person mistreats their cats in all sorts of ways, like by not feeding them properly, allowing them to live in a dangerous and/or unclean environment, and so on. If that person also were to trim their cats’ whiskers, that could form a part of the case against them.
Of course, whether something is legal or illegal doesn’t define whether that thing is right or wrong. But you won’t go to prison solely for trimming your cat’s whiskers.
Why You Shouldn’t Cut a Cat’s Whiskers
There are good reasons why you shouldn’t trim your cat’s whiskers. These reasons are good enough that we don’t think anybody should trim their cat’s whiskers. In no particular order…
Why Do Cats Have Whiskers?
Whiskers aren’t just for fashion; cats don’t have them for no reason. Think about it: lots and lots of different animals have whiskers, including all species of cats, dogs, and many other mammal pets. It stands to reason that they must have a purpose, otherwise they wouldn’t be so common. So what are they for?
As it turns out, there are several reasons why cats have whiskers. One reason is that cats have poor eyesight, so need to use their other senses like hearing, smell and touch. Their whiskers help them ‘see’ how close something is, which is why their whiskers spread out when they feel tense or frightened. They’re also useful for navigating at night and for sensing other cats, or prey.
Another use for whiskers is to help cats slink through narrow gaps. When a cat approaches a gap, it measures how wide the gap is with its whiskers to assess whether it can fit through. This leads to one of the main issues cats experience when they don’t have whiskers, which is that they get stuck in places they wouldn’t normally, like between the bars of fences and gates. If you cut your cat’s whiskers, you increase the likelihood of this happening.
As such, you shouldn’t think of your cat’s whiskers as a kind of accessory. You shouldn’t trim them, curl them, pluck them, dye them or in short do anything to them. And as we’ll find out in a moment, since there’s no other reason to trim your cat’s whiskers, you should leave them well alone.
Do Cat Whiskers Fall Out?
Another reason you shouldn’t cut your whiskers is that they fall out on their own anyway. Whiskers are a special kind of hair, but a hair nonetheless, and all hairs have a natural lifespan. Eventually the hair gets old and brittle, and either breaks or is pulled out by day to day activity. Unless you get a regular haircut each week, you’ll notice that you have some thinner, brittle, older hairs too—the exact same applies to cats.
As such if it’s of concern to you that your cat’s whiskers are particularly long, don’t worry. They won’t keep growing forever and ever. They’ll eventually fall out. Even if they did get much longer than normal, that’s not a big deal anyway.
If you leave your cat’s whiskers to grow without trimming them, you’ll eventually notice this. Whiskers fall out just like any other hair when your cat sheds. And since they’re much thicker and longer than your average cat’s hair, they’re easy to notice on surfaces. And when a cat’s whisker does fall out, that’s nothing to worry about; your cat still has all of its other whiskers, and another will grow in to replace the lost one.
All of this means that if your cat is struggling to groom itself, that’s not a problem, at least with regard to its whiskers. Cats don’t pluck their whiskers or nibble at them to keep them short. All they do is occasionally rub them clean. You therefore don’t need to trim your cat’s whiskers if it’s unable to groom itself.
Does Cutting a Cat’s Whiskers Hurt Them?
This is a big point of contention, and one of the main reasons why people say you shouldn’t cut a cat’s whiskers. But it’s not a clear-cut point—pun intended.
Trimming your cat’s whiskers doesn’t hurt it, at least not in the sense that most people think. The whisker itself doesn’t have any nerves in it; it’s just a hair, like any other hair. As such, trimming it is just like trimming the hair on your head.
This raises the question of how cats feel with their whiskers if they don’t have nerves in them. The way that it works is that the base of the whisker is contained in a tiny, blood-filled sac that is filled with nerves. When the whisker touches something, the base of the whisker moves in the sac, and the nerves in the sac send signals to the brain to tell it the whisker has been touched.
This means two things. One is that it can hurt your cat if you pull on its whiskers, stroke them roughly, poke them, or otherwise mess with them. It therefore would hurt your cat if you tried to trim its whiskers because:
- The cutting tool may not form a perfect cut and thereby pull on the hairs, like how a blunt razor doesn’t cut properly.
- Your cat could pull away from you as try to cut its whiskers, which would hurt if you are in the process of cutting them.
So, even though the tips of the whiskers don’t contain any nerves, trimming them could still hurt.
Other Countries Don’t Do It
On a final note, this isn’t common practise anywhere in the world. Cat owners in Europe, Asia, South America and Africa don’t trim their cats’ whiskers. That’s not because their cats aren’t as well cared for as those in North America, it’s because there’s no need to trim a cat’s whiskers. It’s no coincidence that cat owners from around the world also don’t trim their cats’ claws, as they use alternatives to manually clipping them.
Take it as a sign—there’s just no need to trim your cat’s whiskers!