We get it, you’re a curious. You’ve got questions and we’ve got answers. For this series, we send your burning kitty q’s to our panel of experts who can help you get inside your cat’s high-held head.
We consulted Dr. Mikel Maria Delgado, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis. Mikel has worked professionally with cats for almost twenty years, starting in the Cat Behavior Program of the San Francisco SPCA, and more recently through her cat behavior consulting partnership, Feline Minds. She’s also co-author with Jackson Galaxy of the 2017 book “Total Cat Mojo,” and has published her research in several academic journals.
Okay in full transparency, half the reason I found out about Smalls was from Instagram ads (informative, cute, wins all around). I've since been seeing products designed for cats that are designed to alleviate something called "whisker fatigue" when cats eat or drink from bowls. I've never heard of this, but I'm curious if I should get new dishes for my cat so she's more comfortable?
— Concerned Cat Mama
This is a great question, and one that scientists have been studying to determine the validity of. Whisker fatigue has been described as a condition that may cause cats’ whiskers to become irritated when they touch the sides of a food or water dish. And you're absolutely right—a market of specially designed food dishes meant to combat whisker fatigue has erupted, but that doesn't mean your cat needs one.
First, let’s talk about whiskers - they are important! Cats’ whiskers are thick hairs with very sensitive nerve endings. These special hairs send signals to a cat’s brain when touched, and allow cats to detect air movement around them. As a result, they help cats navigate through their environment or even detect prey.
The sensitive part of the whisker is actually at the follicle in the skin where the nerves are. Just like our hair is not sensitive to being cut, the whisker itself is not sensitive. But just like you can feel if you PULL on your hair, moving the whisker leads to a sensation.
Cats have whiskers in several places. You have likely noticed all the ones on their face: on their chip, above their lips and on their foreheads. You may not have noticed that they also have whiskers on the backs of their legs!
Whiskers are also for communicating - when a cat is curious or hunting, their whiskers will be “on alert” and outstretched. A relaxed cat may have slightly droopy whiskers. A cat who is scared or upset may pull their whiskers back closer to their face.
To date, there is no scientific evidence supporting that “whisker fatigue” is real. In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery found no effect of a whisker-friendly dish on the time a cat spent eating, how much food a cat ate, or how much food cats dropped while eating. Behaviors that have been attributed to whisker fatigue, such as finicky eating or carrying food away from the bowl may have other explanations, such as illness or not feeling safe where the food dish is located.
If you want to make sure your cat is comfortable with their food or water dish, you can offer them a few choices for a few days and observe their preferences. In the aforementioned study, some, but not all, cats did seem to prefer a whisker friendly dish. Some cats do like eating off a plate or shallow bowl, and other cats don’t seem to mind a high-sided bowl. Giving them choices allows you to offer them what they like best!
[#BeginTLDR#] A few companies fueled the myth of "whisker fatigue", that cats need different dishes so they aren't uncomfortable while eating or drinking [#SplitTLDR#] Researches recently found that there are no differences between cats' eating behavior at their normal food bowl or when using a "whisker-friendly" bowl [#EndTLDR#]
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