Whisker Fatigue: What is it and how to prevent it
Cat whiskers may look like nothing more than facial hair or misplaced eyelashes, but in reality, whiskers are an important tool for your cat in understanding their environment. But with this special tool comes the danger of whisker fatigue, or the over-stimulation of your cat’s senses.
What are whiskers?
Whiskers are not just an extension of cat fur. Instead, these filaments are tactile hairs, or “vibrissae” as scientists may call them, which tell your cat a whole lot about their surroundings, their position in space, and the identity of objects and animals around them. The whiskers connect to the cat’s nervous system deep below the skin and send information directly to their brains. They send information about what they are touching and the vibrations that reach them from movement in their environment.
What is whisker fatigue?
Although cats do have some control over the sensations taken in by their whiskers—they can heighten their perceptions when they have more need for the input—they also are at their mercy to some degree, as the whiskers are controlled by their autonomic system and therefore respond without conscious thought. This means that your cat is taking in lots of sensations and information about the world around them at any moment. This is normal for cats and something they can typically handle. It only becomes an issue when your cat is being forced to bump her whiskers against an unusual number of things in a repetitive way.
How can you prevent whisker fatigue?
The most common cause of whisker fatigue is the size and shape of a cat’s water dish. When a dish is too deep or too narrow, then every time your cat goes to take a sip of water, she is forced to brush her whiskers against the side of the dish. This can be overwhelming, stressful, and even painful to some cats.
Luckily, there is an easy solution! Make sure that you put your cat’s water in a dish with low sides, or provide a drinking fountain for your cat. You’ll know it’s working when your kitty stops being so stressed or disruptive around their food and water dish. A well-hydrated cat is a happy cat!