What Is Whisker Fatigue?


what is whisker fatigue

The term “whisker fatigue” might sound like an excuse I made up to get out of shaving…or a reason for my girlfriend to avoid kissing me.

But whisker fatigue is a very real condition for your cat. So what is whisker fatigue?

It’s a condition caused by the overuse and overstimulation of your cat’s whiskers. Can you take a guess at the most common source for all this stimulation?

Eating and drinking!

Think about it…most water and food bowls for cats use high-siding that is actually a source of constant (and unwanted) stimulation for your cat.

Luckily, the solution is pretty simple and special whisker relief cat dishes are widely available. We’ve actually got a list of our three best whisker friendly bowls for both food and water that you can read here.

But before you head over there, let’s learn a little bit more about your cat’s whiskers.

The Wonderful Whisker: What Are Cat Whiskers For?

Whiskers do more than just make your cat look cool. Whiskers, which are also called vibrissae, can help your cat navigate tight spaces, dark areas and even feel incoming objects before they actually come in contact with your cat’s face or eyes. While some of that might seem obvious, whiskers also work in much more subtle ways, too.

In fact, your cat’s whiskers can detect air currents generated by moving objects so they can literally feel something moving without being able to see it.

Whiskers Help Your Cat Stay Balanced

You’ve certainly heard that cats always land on their feet, but you probably haven’t heard the whiskers get any credit for that!

But the fact is, whiskers have special sensory organs called proprioceptors located at the very tips. These special receptors help send messages to the brain that tell your kitty where exactly their body is.

Whiskers Help Your Cat Communicate

While whiskers fill a much more important role, you could think of whiskers like eyebrows on us (assuming a human is reading this).

And I’m sure you’ve seen your cat give you a surprised face at a sudden noise or new visitor. Your cat’s whiskers help in creating that surprised kitty face!

Whiskers Protect Your Cat

Whiskers can also act like eyelashes in humans. If you feel a leaf, dust, or any other object on your eyelash your eye will reactively close to protect itself. Well, whiskers can provide the same function but are MUCH more sensitive than your eyelashes. In fact, cats can even use whiskers to detect movement of prey based on wind currents!

So What Causes Whisker Fatigue? 

The complex functions of the whisker rely on your kitty’s nervous system to function at a high level.

Which doesn’t sound like a problem…until you realize that your kitty can’t turn this power off!.

It’s kinda like those superhero movies when the hero suddenly gets an ability like reading minds or super hearing. Sure, it can be handy and seems cool at first.

But if you can’t turn it off or control it, it’s going to drive you crazy!

With that mind, imagine all 24 of your cat’s finely turned whiskers all pressed against the food and water bowl just to get that bit of kibble or last drop of water. Yikes!

Symptoms of Whisker Fatigue

Whisker fatigue in cats can show a variety of symptoms. One of the most common symptoms is choosing to tip over or remove kibble from the food bowl. After all, eating off the floor or countertop is more comfortable than eating out the high rimmed bowl.

While other cats suffering from whisker fatigue might beg for food only to stare blankly at the bowl once you serve them their meal. Then others will get so frustrated that you may see some aggression, most often directed towards other animals in the house.

Remember, no matter how much we feel in tune with our feline, the fact is they can’t really speak to us.

Sure, they let us know when it’s mealtime or that they’d like the bedroom door to be opened. Then closed. Then opened.

(You get the idea.)

But what they can’t always tell us is when they’re uncomfortable. Sometimes, we have to read between the lines. Unfortunately, that’s the case when it comes to whisker fatigue which simply isn’t discussed as often as it should be.

How do you stop whiskers from fatigue?

Luckily, the solution for whisker fatigue is pretty simple and there are a variety of whisker friendly cat bowls on the market. In fact, you may have seen these bowls already and wondering what “whisker friendly” actually meant!

Well, now you know and if you’re interested in picking up some whisker friendly bowls you should check out our list of the best on the market. You can see our list of the best whisker relief bowls by clicking here.

Frequently Asked Questions

There’s a lot of questions that come up around whisker fatigue and we’ve heard most of them over the years. Honestly, this important topic doesn’t get enough attention which is why we’ve put together a list of the top questions we get.

Let us know if we missed one!

Q: What is whisker stress?

Whisker stress is just another name for whisker fatigue. Essentially, it’s the overuse and overstimulation of your cat’s whiskers during mealtime. Over time this can lead to general discomfort and behavioral problems.

Q: Are long whiskers a sign of a healthy cat?

Different cats have different length whiskers so it’s hard to say what is considered “long” and what’s normal. But it’s important to note that happy and relaxed cats will typically have loose whispers that are facing forward. If your cat is frightened or startled, they pull their whiskers back as they tighten the muscles in their face.

Q: Do cats like it when you touch their whiskers?

Generally, you’ll want to avoid messing with your cat’s whiskers too much. Remember, these are highly tuned and sensitive receptors! But your cat may like a gentle pet around her face and the base of her whiskers. Take your cues from your cat. If she stays for the petting usually that’s a good sign that she’s happy to have more!

Q: What happens when you cut off a cat’s whiskers?

First off, don’t do that! Unfortunately, we’ve spoken to quite a few well-meaning pet owners who felt that trimming their cat’s whiskers would be the best option for combating whisker fatigue. It’s not! Trimming your cat’s whiskers is like taking away one of your senses that you depend on! Your cats are constantly using their whiskers every day!

Q: Is it okay for cats to lose their whiskers?

It’s completely normal for a cat to occasionally shed a few whiskers! This is a regular process and not much different from you losing hair. But if you start to see more than a few whiskers (as in several coming off a day to the point where your cat looks noticeably different) then it’s time to see your veterinarian.

What Do You Think?

Have you seen whisker fatigue in your own cats?

Let us know what you think.

Logan M.

Logan has always loved everything about cats! Growing up with a family full of pets and a lifelong passion for animals he pursued work in the veterinary industry. After 10 years, he started BetterWithCats.net to help cat owners learn more about their feline friends.

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