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Whisker Stress – Does Your Kitty Have It?

Does your cat pull her food out of her bowl before she eats it, leaving a mess for you to clean up? Or does she eat only a few mouthfuls from the top of her dish and then beg for more, completely ignoring what’s left? You might think she’s a picky eater, but there’s probably a valid reason why she’s doing this, and it’s not just to make your life difficult. She may have what’s called whisker stress.

What is whisker stress?

Whisker stress, also known as whisker fatigue, is caused when a cat’s whiskers are forced to come in contact with the edges of their food bowl or dish. To really understand this issue, you must first understand your cat’s whiskers.

Whiskers provide cats (and all other mammals) with information about the objects they come into contact with. Many cats’ whiskers are so finely tuned that they can even pick up air movement. They help enhance the cat’s senses, particularly short distance vision. Although whiskers look like a type of hair, they’re actually rich in blood vessels and nerve endings, so they’re extraordinarily sensitive. They help cats navigate their surroundings.

A cat typically has between eight and twelve whiskers on each side of her face, as well as shorter whiskers on her chin, above her eyes, and even on her legs.
Each whisker is essentially set up to transmit information about pressure being applied along its length to its base, which contains the follicle and receptors. The tip of each whisker has proprioceptors, sensory organs that are incredibly sensitive to even the slightest pressure. Cats can use their whiskers to determine how far away an object is, where it’s located, and even its texture.

So what does this have to do with your cat’s eating habits?

Because the proprioceptors in her whiskers are so incredibly sensitive, it can actually be painful for her to eat or drink out of a bowl that’s too narrow to accommodate her whiskers without having them touch the sides. Here are some signs that your cat might be experiencing whisker stress:

  • Using paws to scoop food out of their bowls
  • Eating off only the top of the bowl
  • Leaving food in the bowl, but still hungry
  • Meowing at the bowl, standing or pacing nearby although there is food in it
  • Leaving a mess behind on the floor

In all of these examples, the cat is trying to avoid having to cram her sensitive whiskers into the bowl, something that’s very uncomfortable for her.

What can you do to solve the problem?

Luckily, the fix is relatively simple. Just start feeding and watering your cat from bowls that take the span of her whiskers into account. The bowls should be both wide enough and shallow enough that her whiskers don’t touch the sides, even if she puts her whole head in to get food on the very bottom.

An option we offer at the Barkery is Dr. Catsby’s Bowl for Whisker Relief. The Dr. Catsby bowl provides a wide, shallow eating surface that allows food to fall to the center of the bowl, but still provides enough of an edge to prevent food from being pushed out of the bowl.

The high-quality stainless steel bowl is dishwasher safe and includes a cutaway for easy lifting. It can be easily cleaned and won’t harbor acne-causing bacteria like plastic can. The Dr. Catsby bowl is our store cat’s favorite! If you’re experiencing eating issues with your kitty, give this bowl a try.

Transitioning your cat to a new food: How to do it right!

There are lots of reasons you may desire or even need to change your cat’s food. Your cat may have developed a medical problem for which a special diet is recommended. You may not be able to obtain the food your cat has been eating any longer. Or you may simply want to change your cat to a higher quality food.

Whatever the reason for the change, transitioning a cat to a new food must be done carefully. If your cat is not particularly finicky and will eat anything, you should consider yourself lucky. If that’s the case, the transition will be relatively simple.

Importance of Gradually Changing Your Cat’s Food

If possible, your cat should be transitioned slowly from one food to another. Sudden changes in your cat’s diet can cause gastrointestinal upset and may result in diarrhea, vomiting, and even a reduced appetite for your cat.

Ideally, you should plan on taking at least a week to transition your cat from one food to another. If your cat is not finicky, start by adding a small amount of the new food in with old food. Gradually increase the amount of the new food and decrease the old food by a similar amount each day. Be sure your cat is eating the food. If the transition goes smoothly, you should be feeding only the new food at the end of a week.

Never try to starve your cat into eating a new diet. Cats that do not eat regularly can develop hepatic lipidosis, a health condition that can become life-threatening. If your cat goes longer than 24 hours without ingesting any food, you should be concerned. Cats that are eating an insufficient amount of food may take longer to become ill but can still develop hepatic lipidosis within a few days.

If your cat is finicky and refuses to accept the new food, you’ll need to start by feeding scheduled meals rather than feeding your cat free-choice. You should plan on feeding your cat a meal two to three times daily and removing any uneaten food after 20-30 minutes. Start this process while still feeding the old diet.

Once your cat is eating meals on a schedule, try mixing a small quantity of the new food in with old. Do not offer your cat more in one meal than he would normally eat in the 20-30 minutes during which the food is offered. Hopefully, your cat will be hungry enough to accept the new mixture. If successful, continue to increase the quantity of new food while simultaneously decreasing the quantity of the old food each day.

Go slow with the transition. This process may take much longer than a week, depending on your individual cat. If you go too fast (i.e., giving more new food and less old food), your cat may refuse the new mixture. If you need to feed the same mixture of foods without change for several consecutive days before increasing the quantity of the new food, do so.

Transitioning from Dry to Wet Cat Food

Transitioning a cat from a dry food to a wet food can be especially problematic. The taste and texture of the two types of food are quite different and many cats will find their new food quite strange. There are some tricks you can try to make the transition easier and the food more palatable. Try sprinkling the kibbles on top of the wet food until your cat is used to the smell of the wet food underneath. Then you can try mixing the dry food into the wet food. You can also try grinding some of the dry food into a powder and mixing it into the wet food to add flavor and make the food more palatable.

For cats that need to be transitioned from dry food to wet food quickly due to medical issues, adding a small quantity of Fortiflora, a probiotic, to the wet food can help improve the palatability. Warming the wet food to near body temperature can also help improve the palatability.

Watch your cat’s weight carefully during any food transition. If your cat loses weight or refuses to eat during the transition, consult your veterinarian for advice.

From PetMD