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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.