Why Do Cats Have Whiskers and How Do They Get Stressed?



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What is Whisker Stress in Cats?


Posted by Maureen Lake at Jun 18, 2015

When I was a young, we had a pet cat that gave birth to a litter of kittens and I took a tremendous amount of pleasure watching them nurse, open their eyes for the first time, start to crawl and grow. Looking on from a safe distance, I waited patiently until they got old enough so that I could interact with them.

When they got big enough to start cruising around, I noticed that their little whiskers were very short and uneven. I thought it was a little bit odd, but not as strange as what I discovered next. I noticed the momma cat chewing on their little growing whiskers. Puzzled by this strange behavior, I called our vet who informed me that this was perfectly normal and that the mother was actually protecting her offspring. Since cats use their whiskers as a form of radar, mom was doing this as a way to keep them closer to her nest.

I initially got my whisker question answered and it made perfect sense once it was explained to me by the veterinarian. But this peaked my curiosity and I had more questions and got some other important answers to these peculiar traits and issues associated with the feline whisker.

Why are whiskers so important?

A grown cat’s whiskers, also known as ‘vibrissae’ or tactile hairs, are extremely sensitive since they are deeply rooted into their faces in an area richly connected to many different nerves and blood vessels. More than radar, their whiskers are so touchy they use them to find their way darkness with little or no light. So sensitive in fact, that they can sense even the most subtle changes in air currents that move around objects to avoid colliding with them. They also use them to judge distances and whether or not they can fight through a tight space.

This is why you should never trim a cat’s whisker, although their mom gets a free pass while they are grooming their kittens before they are weaned. While it is normal for a cat to shed whiskers throughout their lifetime, many pet owners will often find them near their feeding area. One not might think this isn’t important, but keep reading, there’s some information on these feline feelers than meets the eye.

What is whisker stress?

Many cat lovers have witnessed their beloved cats taking a few kibbles from their bowl and putting them onto the floor before eating them. Perhaps they only eat the top layer of their food and leave the rest behind. We will often play this off as a cat being finicky or a picky eater, but this is mostly far from the truth.

Imagine having these extremely sensitive, elongated whiskers coming off of your face and being forced to eat out of a tiny, restrictive bowl. OUCH! This is the most common form of whisker stress for many cats as this antenna is constantly coming into contact with this small, tight, feeding bowl.

Aren’t they just being lazy?

There are a few viral videos circulating around the internet that show cats lying next to their dishes using their paws to dip into their water dishes to drink from their bowl. These felines are being labeled as “lazy,” when in fact they are simply avoiding the extremely uncomfortable contact with their whiskers. If you look closely, their whiskers never come into contact with either the bowl or their paw. Interesting.

So what’s the solution?

Pet professionals have designed better, more ergonomic, elevated food surfaces for feeding both our cats and dogs alike. Eating and drinking from a more level, raised surface is less stressful for our feline friends and also our canine companions. While dogs usually don’t share the same whisker issues as cats, feeding our feline friends from a flatter surface is less stressful and healthier for them.

While there are many health issues that cats can face, pardon the pun, everything from allergies to urinary tract infections; we don’t need to add any fuel to this fire with feeding issues. Consider a more raised, flatter surface area when feeding your feline friend.

This post was written by Amber Kingsley, who is a freelance journalist and member of a pet enthusiast/animal lover group in her city of Santa Monica.

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