Yes, it’s a real thing.
No, it’s a malady made up by pet companies.
The truth is, it all depends on who you ask. “Whisker fatigue” is such new terminology, even veterinarians don’t agree on whether or not it exists. Let’s talk about the concept of whisker fatigue and what you can do if you think it might be affecting your cat.
What is Whisker Fatigue?
Your cat’s whiskers are incredibly complex. Technically called vibrissae, their tips have sensors called proprioceptors that vibrate every time they come into contact with something. These vibrations hit nerve-rich parts of your cat’s body and transmit signals to your cat’s nervous system. Whiskers tell your cat how hard to bite down, whether she can fit through a small space, or even whether the wind is blowing.
They’re processing a lot of information at any given time.
Some cats appear to be distressed by the sensation of their whiskers rubbing up against the sides of a deep food bowl. It might even cause them pain. This, some cat parents and even some vets, have taken to calling “whisker fatigue.”
What are the Signs of Whisker Fatigue?
Whisker fatigue isn’t a disease; it’s not something your vet can “test” for. It’s symptoms are really just behaviors from your cat that can indicate she needs a change. Whisker fatigue symptoms might include:
- A reluctance to eat
- Pawing or tipping all food out onto the floor to eat
- Fighting with other cats at mealtimes
Whereas a lot of cat parents just assume their cats are “finicky eaters,” there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest their kitties simply don’t like having their whiskers go into overdrive every time they eat.
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How Can you Prevent Whisker Fatigue?
The good news is, whisker fatigue isn’t dire, and it usually has a pretty simple fix: a shallower food bowl. Plenty of cat parents have found success by feeding their cat from a plate rather than a bowl. There are also a handful of new specialized cat bowls being sold as “whisker friendly,” ergonomically designed not to stimulate the whiskers during eating.
Do you need to shell out extra money for one of these special bowls? Well, one thing that differentiates these bowls from shallow plates is that the bowls are generally made from stainless steel. Stainless steel doesn’t harbor bacteria the way ceramic can, and can be easier to clean. There are also some models available that are raise 3-5″ off the ground so cats don’t have to stoop to eat. This can be helpful for cats who suffer from arthritis.
Should You Talk to Your Vet?
If you’ve noticed the signs of whisker fatigue, it’s definitely worth talking to your vet during your cat’s next wellness exam. When should you notify your vet sooner? If your cat’s symptoms are accompanied by weight loss, GI distress, aggressiveness, or other behavioral changes, contact your vet.
Any changes in appetite are worth watching closely. They could be indicative of something more serious going on with your cat, like pain, illness, or deteriorating health. If your cat’s eating habits are “off” for more than a few days without resolution, consult a professional.