Thursday, March 24, 2016

Is Your Cat Showing Signs of Whisker Fatigue?

by Maggie Funkhouser

A cat's whiskers are a sensory marvel. Each one has an ultrasensitive organ that sends a variety of messages to the brain and nervous system. Whiskers are used to sense subtle changes in the environment, such as air currents and vibrations, and cats use them to help hunt for prey as well as to detect approaching visitors.

They also use their whiskers for spatial reasoning. A cat's whiskerspan (the distance between the left and right whisker tips) is generally about as wide as she is. This helps her figure out how wide an opening is and whether she’ll fit through it. "Will I fit behind the couch?"

In addition to helping a cat navigate, the position of her whiskers can indicate how she is feeling. Relaxed whiskers that are sticking out sideways means she’s calm. If they’re pushed forward, that means she’s excited and alert; if they’re flattened against her cheeks, she’s angry or scared. When reading a cat’s mood, you should always take into account her complete body language, including the position of her ears and tail.

Because whiskers are hypersensitive, be careful not to brush up hard against them and never pull on them, for you can actually cause her pain. And they can easily become fatigued by unnecessary contact with things like the sides of bowls. Watch your cat while she is eating and you may notice, depending on the size of the bowl, her whiskers press against the sides.

Notice how Linus's nose is deep in the bowl
 and his whiskers are pressing against the sides.

To prevent whisker fatigue and discomfort, use food bowls that are low and shallow and water bowls that are wide. Providing a water fountain so your cat can drink from the stream of running water is best; most cats prefer to drink from moving water.

Linus eating from a shallow bowl, specially designed by Dr. Catsby that keeps food
towards the center and allows whiskers to remain naturally stretched out.

Your cat should adjust pretty quickly to her new bowls and any signs of whisker fatigue should disappear. However, if you see no improvement in her finicky nature at mealtime, she might be experiencing something other than whisker fatigue and it is important to have her evaluated by your vet. Learning your cat's body language helps build a special bond and allows you to better understand your cat's particular needs. In the case of whisker fatigue, your cat's happiness may only be a bowl switch away!   

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