Whisker Fatigue in Cats: What it is and How to Prevent it
Many cat owners have never heard of whisker fatigue, but there is a very good chance your cat experiences it. While you may see your cat’s whiskers as something that merely adds to her beauty, those whiskers play an important role in her overall well-being.
What are Cat Whiskers and What Do They Do Exactly?
You cat’s whiskers are actually a very complex organ, also known as vibrissae. These long, thick hairs act as a sensory organ, helping your cat navigate the world around her.
In this case, cat whiskers really do give your cat extrasensory perception. These high-powered antennae send messages to her nervous system. Those whiskers help your cat see in dim light, orient her in tight spaces, and even help her detect changes in air current. Your cat’s whiskers help her hunt and catch that mouse in the dark room. They also help her determine if she can actually squeeze her body in between that ridiculously tight spot between your bed and the wall.
What is Whisker Fatigue?
Whisker fatigue is a condition that occurs when a cat’s sensitive whiskers become overly stimulated. Simply put, when her whiskers are touched too much, your cat’s brain receives too many jumbled messages, and this can confuse your cat, making her feel stressed or agitated. So basically, whisker fatigue is information overload for cats!
Again, your cat’s whiskers are incredibly sensitive, and any time they come in contact with something, messages are transmitted to the brain. This means even if your cat walks in front of a fan, if her whiskers brush against a piece of furniture or her food and water bowls, over time she can develop whisker fatigue. Although fatigue may not actually be the best description of what is actually happening to her whiskers. Whisker stress may be a more apt term.
So, while you may be tempted to touch your cat’s whiskers when petting her, it’s best to leave them alone.
The Biggest Culprit of Whisker Fatigue
Unfortunately, your cat cannot tune out the unnecessary messages, or background noise, her brain receives when her whiskers touch something. She will find herself being overly stimulated by the most common situations, like eating or drinking from her bowls.
If, every time cats eat or take a drink of water, their whiskers brush the sides of the bowls, it is believed that this can greatly contribute to whisker fatigue. Many vets, regardless of their opinion on whisker fatigue, tend to agree that cats typically find eating cat food out of a bowl unappealing. Feeding your baby on a flat surface instead of food bowls may be the best option.
Signs of Whisker Fatigue
When it coms to hiding pain and stress, cats are notoriously good at it. But there are some signs of whisker fatigue you may be able to pick up on should you pay close attention to your cat’s behavior.
Avoiding Her Food Bowl
If your cat appears to have suddenly developed an aversion to her bowl at mealtime, this may be a sign that she is feeling stressed from whisker fatigue.
Becoming More Vocal
If you have noticed that your cat is meowing more at mealtime, or in general, she may be trying to tell you that something is stressing her out.
Pawing at the Food
If your cat used to eat out of the food bowl, but now you find her grabbing at bits of food and dropping them on the floor and then eating them, this could definitely be a sign she would prefer to eat from a flat surface.
It must be noted that avoiding mealtime and being more vocal can also point to other, more serious health issues. Should your cat be showing these signs, it is important to get her into the vet and have her checked out. If, after your vet performs a physical exam and other diagnostic testing, he finds nothing wrong with your cat, then she may be showing signs of whisker fatigue.
Preventing Whisker Fatigue in Cats
As I mentioned earlier, it’s a good idea to not pet or touch your cat’s whiskers. In addition, consider replacing your cat’s food and water bowls, even if they aren’t showing signs of fatigue.
Provide a wide water bowl or water fountain, so your cat’s whiskers are not constantly brushing up against the sides of a bowl. Also, at meal time place food onto a flat dish instead.
And a final caution: Some pet owners have gotten the idea into their heads that trimming their cat’s whiskers is a good idea, but it is really a BAD idea. These are not ordinary hairs, remember, they are powerfully sensitive antenna that help your cat navigate the environment. Trimming whiskers will dim their perception and confuse them.
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- “Why Do Cats Have Whiskers?” Retrieved from: https://www.petmd.com/cat/behavior/evr_ct_why_do_cats_have_whiskers
- Hunter, T., DVM; Buzhardt, L., DVM. “Why Do Cats Have Whiskers?” Retrieved from: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/why-do-cats-have-whiskers
- “Whisker Fatigue in Cats,” Retrieved from: https://news.okstate.edu/articles/veterinary-medicine/2017/whisker-fatigue-cats.html
- Cosgrove, N., (2022) “Whisker Fatigue in Cats: What It Is, and How to Help Your Cat.” Retrieved from: https://petkeen.com/whisker-fatigue-in-cats/
- Godfrey, H., DVM, MRCVS. (2021) “Whisker fatigue in cats: A vet’s guide to causes and treatment.” Retrieved from: https://www.petsradar.com/advice/what-is-whisker-fatigue-in-cats