Monday, April 4, 2016

Whisker Stress & Last Week's Contest Winners!

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Vibrissae. That is the technical name for a cat's whiskers. These amazing whiskers are not what you think. They are not fancy decorations, or just facial hair growth. They are embedded quite deeply into the cat and reach the muscular and nervous systems, providing a truly remarkable sense of their surroundings. Did you ever wonder how your cat can find his way around in the the dark when you are stumbling until you see the night light? Her whiskers tell her everything she needs to know.  They are extremely sensitive and you may also notice some sticking up like eyebrows. They are extremely sensitive.  If you didn't know this before, I want to you to know it now because, as a cat owner, you must be aware of their sensitivity in order to keep kitty happy and healthy. The position of your cat's whiskers will also tell you what her mood is like. If she's chasing a toy or another cat around the house, you'll see that her whiskers are forward, as they will be when she's startled. When she's relaxed, her whiskers will be in a normal position.  

Photo Courtesy of Lisette Brodey

What has made me even more aware of this sensitivity and the thought that my readers might not understand, was a recent trip to my local pet supply store, part of a large National chain. I was buying food for Aimee and as I came around the aisle, I saw and end cap display of cat dishes. The problem with this prominent display is that there were only a couple of dishes - almost the entire display consisted of bowls, may of them with cat designs on them. Innocent owners buy them without knowing that that's the last thing you should buy for your cat. It's nearly impossible to find a photo of a proper feeding dish for a cat. They are almost exclusively bowls. Why is this wrong?
Photo Courtesy of Claire Clayton

Cats are not dogs. Dogs do very well eating from a bowl. Cats, however, find their very sensitive whiskers rubbing against the bowl with every mouthful of food. Is it any wonder that some of these cats scoop out the food with their paw and put it on the floor to eat? Owners think this is some sort of cat trick, or a weird idiosyncrasy. No, it's not. The cat cannot be comfortable eating from a bowl. Imagine having something hurt you every time you ate. You wouldn't be very happy, would you? It puts stress on the cat.

The correct feeding dish for a cat is wider and has very low sides, or you can use a plate. Plates don't have to match your dinnerware. You can find perfectly acceptable plates in discount stores. Be sure that they are safe for you cat.  

As for the water dish, a neighbor recently asked me why Aimee's dish could be a swimming pool for a  cat whose weight hovers between 8 and 9 pounds. Simple: whisker stress. So what if it was meant for a big dog?  She loves it. The same with a water fountain. The big one is preferable to a small one for a cat's whiskers.
Photo Courtesy of Shara Rendell-Smock

And one more warning: Do NOT ever cut your cat's whiskers! Don't interfere with feline whiskers. You can look, you can admire them, but for cat's sake, leave them alone!

Now for the winners of last week's contest

Each has won one of Morris The Cat's Well-Groomed Kitty Kits Provided by Morris and his human friends at 9 Lives Cat Food!  

Drum Roll Please!  

And The Winners Are:

Lisette Brodey



Congratulations, Ladies!  Please e-mail me via my website: with your mailing address so Morris can have his personal assistants get a kit off to each of you!  Thank you for entering the contest!!


Lisette Brodey said...

I'm so happy to have won the grooming kit!

I'm really glad you wrote this post, Darlene. Years ago, I saw a friend of mine with a pair of scissors in her hand and I screamed, "No, stop!" right before she was about to cut off her cat's whiskers. She had no clue what they were for and luckily, I stopped her seconds before she cut them. It's really important for cat owners to know they should never cut a cat's whiskers.

Darlene said...

Thank you so much for commenting on this post. Your experience emphasizes for readers just how important this is! No cutting of whiskers and never use a bowl for serving cat food.

Gordon Brice said...

I had no idea that a cat's whiskers were so sensitive and that cats should be given suitable "dishes" for their food and water. Just shows that you really can learn something new everyday.
Thank you for sharing this important information with us, Darlene.......and congratulations to Lisette and Monica on winning their prizes. I anticipate there will be some happy and extra well groomed cats around very soon.

Darlene said...

Thank you for commenting, Gordon. I wish more people would. You have confirmed my feeling that most people, even those who have owned cats for many years, are unaware of just how sensitive a cat's whiskers are and how painful the wrong type of feeding dishes can be. I don't know why anyone would want to cut a cat's whiskers. I can only imagine the pain for the cat.

Yes, we do learn something every day, if we will only accept it. My mother taught me that very early on. It has made me explore many things in order to keep on learning! Years ago, I'm not sure how many people were aware of Whisker Stress. It's important enough to have a name for the problem!

Bert said...

Of all the animals that have whiskers, few seem as interesting as the cat. Maybe this is why so many people (the idiots anyway) have been drawn to clipping them off. I don't hear about dog whiskers being cut off, and I'm pretty sure no one is
going after rat whiskers. But cats certainly have well designed ones. There are a lot of articles online that describe and explain them, and people should read these to appreciate their value to the cat. So glad you posted this to bring attention to this subject!

One thing I did as a kid that instantly gave me a better understanding of these "feelers" was to "try them on." Anyone who has cats knows they shed hair, and whiskers are shed, too, as they are a specialized type of hair. When you find one somewhere, save it, and the next one. Dip them in water or alcohol or something if you think they're "dirty," then put these two whiskers lightly into the corners of your mouth, root first. Now close your eyes and just feel your surroundings. You can feel subtle wind currents, anything that comes close to you, and definitely if anything touches one. In fact, just touch one yourself. Try different weights of touch, from just barely to pretty strongly. Imagine if they are attached. You would not enjoy having them pulled on or pulled out.

Look at the whisker. Note that it is tapered. The thicker end is attached, by its follicle, to the extraordinarily sensitive lip area, and it narrows to almost nothing at the outer end. Feel it. It's fairly thick at the base and very thin at the end. Try bending it. Brush one against your skin, your lip, your face.

Once you see and feel all the things that whiskers do, just imagine how much your cat depends on them. My blind cat kept hers pointed forward any time she was on the move, as they served her much like a blind person's white cane.

Why would anyone want to take this special, often crucial, sense away from an animal?

Darlene said...

Bert, thank you so much for writing this! I hope that people will read it. It is extraordinary and I hope you will post this to your own blog as well. I don't know of anyone else who has ever tried saving them and putting them on! I've certainly found them but it never crossed my mind to try that. What an extraordinary experience! You certainly highlight, in a very real way, exactly how sensitive a cat's whiskers are and best left as they are, where they are - in the cat at the length at which they appear!

Again, thank you so much!

Claire said...

Being a first time cat owner I did do a search on bowls That I can remember not one said anything about the whiskers. It was about no plastic and that type of thing. I had always wondered and tried asking and explaining Alana's behavior at her water bowl I finally just recently realized her behavior is because she really doesn't like her water in that type of bowl. Her dry food is fine in it. What she does is drink from the opposite side of the bowl and scratches sometimes while drinking.There was a video of a cat doing the same which is what the conclusion was anyway. Never thought of her whiskers when it came to drinking water.

Darlene said...

Thank you for sharing your experience, Claire. People are in business to sell things and they make the same thing for dogs and cats and think it's okay to write CAT on it or have a picture or drawing of a Kitty. The problem is that they don't know about the problem. The pet supply stores, whether brick and mortar or online, carry things that they think will attract attention and sell. That's the bottom line. They may not even know about Whisker Stress and/or don't care. Most pet owners don't know and wonder about their cat's behavior around the food and water bowls. The Water bowl needs to be BIG and the food should be served in a low-sided dish or on a plate. It is incredibly painful for the cat. I would suggest that even though she's putting up with it, that you get an inexpensive plate for your cat and let her dine in comfort.

AJ said...

Didn't know about the water bowl providing room for the cats whiskers as well as the plate for food. Makes sense.

Thank you for providing helpful information for animals.


Darlene said...

Thank you for your comment, Andrea. I'm so happy you have learned about it. I can only put the information out there and hope it is shared with other cat owners. I appreciate your feedback!

Nagy said...

I was glad to read about using plates instead of bowls for feeding. I got a couple neutral color ceramic glazed dinner plates at Target some years ago that work very nicely.

Darlene said...

Thank you so much for sharing that. It was very wise of you to buy dinner plates for them. No worries about whisker stress at your house!