Mary asks a common question....
My friend has a couple of VERY active children and a longsuffering cat. I was visiting this friend a few days ago when she pointed out where her son decided to give the cat a bit of a trim on her back, and drastically cut back her whiskers. My friend told me that she's really worried about the cat now because whiskers don't grow back. I had never heard of this before. Is this true? If so, what can she do to protect her cat now that she's somewhat handicapped?
Great question, Mary, and a common one. Whiskers not regrowing is an old wives' tale that keeps being spread around. The whiskers on any mammal are really nothing more than specially modified hair. They tend to be thicker and stiffer than normal hairs, and at their base they are surrounded by nerve clusters. Movement of the whiskers triggers nerve signals and are used for sensing air movement, objects close to the face, and so on. Like any other hair whiskers grow from follicles, where they will grow to a certain length, "live" a certain length of time, and then fall out in order to be replaced by a new whisker. They fall out and regrow in a staggered pattern, but they will indeed regrow, just like any other hair that is cut. In fact, long-haired cats that receive close grooming routinely have their whiskers cut as part of trimming the face. However, it can take 2-3 months for a full set of whiskers to grow out so it will not happen soon.
So reassure your friend that her cat will be fine and will have normal whiskers in a few months. Until then the cat may feel a little strange and even be reluctant to go in certain areas as she is missing certain sensory input. But in my experience, this is usually not noticable to the owner.