Whisker stress in cats: Understanding and dealing with a sensitive issue

30/06/2023 Health & care Cat

Whisker stress in cats: Understanding and dealing with a sensitive issue


Cats are incredibly fascinating creatures with unique features and behaviours. One of those intriguing features is a cat's whiskers. These sensitive and beautiful tactile hairs play an essential role in a cat's life. While we often perceive cats as confidently navigating the world, there are situations in which they can experience stress, even related to their whiskers.

Cats not only have sensitive whiskers, but also unique nutritional needs and eating habits. Cats may experience stress while eating or drinking from narrow bowls, restricting their whiskers. This is called whisker stress or whisker fatigue. In this blog, we will focus on whisker stress in cats while using such bowls and discuss how we can understand and help our beloved pets.

What are whiskers and why are they important?


Whiskers are long, stiff hairs located on specific areas of a cat's head, such as around the nose, above the eyes and on the sides of the mouth. These hairs are deeply rooted in the face and are much more sensitive than regular body hair. They contain sensory nerves that send signals to the brain, allowing cats to gather a wide range of information about their surroundings.

A cat's whiskers play a crucial role in determining the size and distance of objects. This is particularly important during eating and drinking, as cats use their whiskers to explore the opening of feeding or drinking bowls. Narrow bowls can be problematic, as the whiskers are restricted and the cat may experience discomfort while eating or drinking. This can lead to stress during meals.

What is whisker stress and how does it occur?


Whisker stress, or whisker fatigue, refers to situations in which cats experience hypersensitivity or discomfort related to their whiskers. Whiskers stress while using narrow bowls can occur in several ways. Recognising whisker stress in cats can sometimes be challenging, as symptoms can be subtle and vary from cat to cat. Here are some possible symptoms that may indicate whisker stress: 
  • Reluctance during eating or drinking: If your cat hesitates to put its head into a narrow bowl or has difficulty reaching the food or water, it may indicate whisker stress. They may eat or drink slowly, move clumsily around the bowl, or refuse to eat altogether.
  • Spilling food or water: Cats with whisker stress may be clumsy while eating or drinking, leading to spilling food or water around the bowl. They may try to prevent their whiskers from touching the bowl by tilting their head or making awkward movements.
  • Changes in eating behaviour: Watch for changes in your cat's eating behaviour. If they usually eat eagerly but suddenly become sluggish, interrupt their meals or have a reduced appetite, this may indicate discomfort or stress related to their whiskers.
  • Avoiding certain bowls: If you notice that your cat avoids specific bowls and prefers wider or shallower options, it may indicate that they have issues with narrow bowls and experience whisker stress.

How can we help our cats?


As loving pet parents, making sure our furry friends are happy and healthy is our priority. We're happy to share some tips to support cats with whisker stress:
  • Use wide and shallow feeding and drinking bowls: choose bowls that are wide enough not to restrict your cat's whiskers. Shallow trays are ideal, allowing the whiskers to move freely without obstruction.
  • Avoid metal edges: Bowls with metal edges can cause discomfort to a cat's whiskers. It's better to choose bowls without sharp or restrictive edges.
  • Provide multiple feeding and drinking bowls: If you have multiple cats, make sure there are enough feeding and drinking bowls to reduce competition and stress. This will give each cat space to eat comfortably without their whiskers brushing against the side of the bowl.
  • Observe your cat's behavior: pay close attention to how your cat reacts while eating or drinking. If you notice signs of stress or difficulty using a particular bowl, try offering alternatives.
  • Give your cat time: allow your cat time to adjust to new feeding and drinking bowls. Introduce the new bowls gradually and observe how your cat reacts to them.

Which feeding and drinking bowls do I choose?


When it comes to choosing suitable feeding and drinking bowls  for cats with whisker stress, there are a few options that offer comfort and convenience. We offer you some suggestions:
  • Wide and shallow bowls: Go for bowls that are wide enough so that your cat's whiskers can move freely without restriction. Shallow bowls are ideal as they don't interfere with the whiskers and make eating or drinking easier.
  • Dishes without high edges: Dishes with high or sharp edges can cause discomfort for cats with sensitive whiskers. It's better to choose dishes without obstructive edges, so that your cat can eat or drink without discomfort.
  • Ceramic or plastic bowls: Ceramic or plastic bowls are often a good choice because they are smooth and don't cause additional friction during eating or drinking. Just make sure the bowls are high quality and easy to clean.

It's important to remember that every cat is unique and what works for one cat may not work for another. It's always good to observe your cat's behaviour and possibly try out different options to see which type of bowl best suits their needs.

Whiskers stress in cats while eating and drinking from narrow bowls is a real problem that can affect your cat's eating experience. Understanding the sensitivity of the whiskers and providing suitable feeding and drinking bowls can help reduce stress and promote a positive eating experience. By paying attention to your cat's needs and taking appropriate measures, you can ensure your cat enjoys its meals comfortably and stress-free.

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In a nutshell

A cat's whiskers play a crucial role in determining the size and distance of objects. This is particularly important during eating and drinking, as cats use their whiskers to explore the opening of feeding or drinking bowls.
Whisker stress, or whisker fatigue, refers to situations in which cats experience hypersensitivity or discomfort related to their whiskers. Whiskers stress while using narrow bowls can occur in several ways.
Use wide and shallow feeding and drinking bowls: choose bowls that are wide enough not to restrict your cat's whiskers.