Cat Whisker Fatigue: What Is It And How You Can Prevent It

orange cat lying on side with eyes closed relaxed

Last updated on April 4th, 2023 at 06:50 pm

Cats are known for their whiskers. Whiskers allow cats to sense their surroundings and navigate their environment. But did you know that their whiskers can become tired?

“Whisker fatigue” occurs when a cat’s whiskers are subjected to too much stimulation. Repeat contact with surfaces like the sides of their food dish or exposure to constant vibration such as loud music are common causes. Whisker fatigue is uncomfortable, confusing, and stressful to the cat.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help prevent this condition so your kitty remains happy and healthy. In this article, we will discuss what cat whisker fatigue is, why it happens, and how you can prevent it.

What Is Whisker Fatigue In Cats?

To understand cat whisker fatigue, we must first understand why cats have whiskers.

Cats have whiskers to help them navigate their environment. Whisker movements stimulate the sensitive nerve endings at the base of each whisker, which then send messages to the brain about changes in their surroundings.

A cat’s whiskers are very sensitive. They can detect very small disturbances in their environment, such as small movements of air and minute vibrations. This ability evolved to give cats a competitive advantage in detecting their prey and evading predators.

In captivity, cats can experience a condition known as whisker fatigue when their sensitive whiskers become overstimulated. This occurs when cats are exposed to continuous or repetitive stimulation of their whiskers through touching, brushing, petting, or exposure to continuous vibrations.

Causes Of Whisker Fatigue In Cats

Whisker fatigue is caused by repeated contact with hard surfaces that cause their whiskers to rub and stimulate the sensitive nerve endings. This can include petting, brushing, and playing with objects such as toys or scratching posts.

Whisker fatigue can also occur when cats are near high-vibration objects such as speakers. This can cause their whiskers to vibrate and become overstimulated.

Whisker fatigue can also occur when cats are in an environment that is too crowded. This can lead to the whiskers being brushed against other objects or rubbed against walls, which can lead to overstimulation of the nerve endings.

However, by far the most common cause of cat whisker fatigue in housecats is from their whiskers rubbing against the side of tall, narrow food and water dishes. Cats can usually remove themselves from most of the situations described above, but they cannot change their own dishes.

grey and white tabby cat whiskers

Signs Of Whisker Fatigue In Cats

When cats suffer from whisker fatigue or stress caused by too-small food dishes they may be seen as hesitant to eat or drink, or being very careful to only eat from the very center of the dish.

They may also try to avoid the dish altogether, pawing at the bowl to get the food out or dumping it over entirely so that they can eat it off the floor.

They may also exhibit signs of distress, pacing back and forth and crying or howling in front of their food and water bowls.

Since cats who are avoiding their food dish likely aren’t eating their fill, they will be hungrier than normal or ask for treats more often than usual. They may behave more aggressively around food that is not in their food bowl, such as treats, because they are so hungry.

Constant stimulation of their whiskers leaves cats confused and stressed, as their brains are not able to sort out what is important information and what is not.

When cats experience constant whisker fatigue, they may become agitated and restless, lose their appetite, and display aggression.

How To Prevent Cat Whisker Fatigue

The best way to prevent cat whisker fatigue is to make sure your cats have wide dishes that are shallow and wide enough for their whiskers. This will allow them to eat and drink comfortably without overstimulating their sensitive nerve endings.

It may also help to give your cats multiple food and water dishes so they can choose the dish that best fits their needs.

Make sure that their environment is comfortable for a cat. Even though you may enjoy listening to loud music for hours at a time, your cat certainly doesn’t! Turning the volume down and providing a comfortable, quiet environment will help to reduce your cat’s stress levels.

grey cat whiskers

How To Treat Cat Whisker Fatigue

Fortunately, treating whisker fatigue is simple. It is simply the same strategy you would use to prevent it in the first place. Make sure your cat has wide, flat food and water dishes and a quiet environment, and they will be right as rain in no time.

Should I Cut My Cat’s Whiskers Shorter?

The answer to this is a resounding no! Cat whiskers are incredibly important for helping a cat orient themselves and navigate their environment. Cutting their whiskers will only cause them further confusion and stress.

Conclusion

Whisker fatigue is a common problem in cats, but it doesn’t have to be a permanent one. By providing your cat with wide, shallow dishes and a comfortable environment, you can ensure that your cat doesn’t suffer from this issue anymore.

Remember, your cat’s whiskers are an important part of their well-being and should never be cut! With a little bit of care and attention, you can ensure that your cat – and its whiskers – remain healthy and happy.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute medical advice. Always consult your veterinarian if you have specific concerns about your pet’s health.

Author

  • Dr. Wendy Wilkins, DVM, PhD

    Dr. Wendy Wilkins is an experienced veterinarian and epidemiologist with over 20 years of expertise. She holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and a Doctorate in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Throughout her career, Dr. Wilkins has excelled in clinical practice, academia, research, and regulatory veterinary medicine. She is a respected voice in knowledge dissemination, delivering factual information in a readable and understandable manner through articles, books, and public engagements.

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