A cat's long whiskers

The term “whisker fatigue” isn’t generally thrown around in daily conversation. Although it may sound like something that a man may get when tired of having to trim his beard, whisker fatigue is actually a condition among cats that can cause significant stress.

The Incredible Whisker

It’s hard to imagine a cat without a set of luxurious, adorable whiskers. However, these long, thick hairs are not there just to make your cat look cool. The primary function of whiskers is to serve as touch receptors that tell a cat a great deal about the world around them.

Whiskers, also called tactile hairs or vibrissae, transmit information about a cat’s environment via tiny sensory organs known as proprioceptors. These organs are located at the base of each whisker and help cats orient themselves, navigate their environment in the dark, hunt for prey (by sensing air currents), and determine whether or not they can fit into a tight space.

Whisker Fatigue

Whiskers, much like any other sensory organ, can suffer from overstimulation under the right circumstances. Whisker fatigue doesn’t exactly mean the whiskers are tired, rather, they’ve become stressed from overuse. The most common cause of whisker fatigue is something a cat does every day – eating and drinking.

Small, high-sided bowls typically used for feeding a cat’s food and water are usually to blame for whisker fatigue. As the cat attempts to eat or drink, the whiskers repeatedly brush against the sides of the bowl, which can cause reactions ranging from irritation to pain, depending on the sensitivity of the cat’s whiskers.

Cats that experience whisker fatigue or whisker stress may show it by not settling down in front of its food bowl, eating only out of the center of the bowl, trying to get the food out of the bowl or tipping it over to eat off the floor. These cats may also become aggressive toward other pets around food.

A Simple Solution

Fortunately, the solution for whisker fatigue is simple – just change your cat’s food and water bowls! A wide, flat bowl with plenty of space for the whiskers to clear the bowl on both sides of your cat’s face – or even a plate – is ideal for feeding a sensitive cat. A circulating pet fountain that has a wide bowl, may also be well-received by cats experiencing whisker fatigue while drinking water.

As you can see, your cat’s whiskers serve an important role in helping it live safely and comfortably in its environment. If you haven’t already, the next time you feed your cat, take a moment to watch your cat’s behavior while it is eating. If your cat appears to be experiencing whisker fatigue, a simple change of bowls may be all you need to improve your cat’s comfort, as well as its overall health and well-being.  

If you suspect something more serious may be going on with your feline friend or just have additional questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center.  We love helping cats live healthy and happy lives!