Whiskers aren't just cute little kitty moustaches, they're sensory organs that help cats see and navigate the world, and they can get tired or stressed too

By Saryn Chorney
June 07, 2017 04:55 PM
USA, Illinois, Metamora, Cat eating from bowl

While dogs seem to wolf down anything and everything, cats can get a bad rap for being finicky eaters. But what if the problem wasn’t actually the food or the cat’s perceived ‘tude, but rather an issue related to feline physiology and the vessel in which its meals are served?

According to the New York Times, “whisker fatigue” may be the culprit. It’s a new diagnosis, but one that many veterinarians are beginning to get behind. So, what is whisker fatigue exactly?

As described by, at the tip of all cat whiskers are proprioceptors, a sensory organ that sends signals to the animal’s nervous system and brain. These tiny organs are so sensitive that they detect vibrations in the air and help a cat navigate around its world, essentially helping them see. Because cat whiskers are this highly sensitive, the theory is that when they constantly rub up against the side of a food (or water) bowl, a kitty may become fatigued or stressed. This can result in a number of issues and odd behaviors that include: shifting food out of the bowl and onto the floor to eat from there instead, not eating all their food despite being hungry, acting aggressively towards other pets during meal times, pacing near the bowl or standing next to it but not eating, and generally making a mess with food on the floor.

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Sound familiar? If so, your cat may be experiencing whisker fatigue.

Personally, my own cat Ruki had been acting finicky periodically when it came to her wet cat food. She’d eat her favorite brand for years then suddenly refuse it. Often she’d gather the food in her mouth then spit it out onto the mat and eat it from there. We’d thoroughly clean bowls, switch brands, try different textures, but eventually her weird eating behavior would always return in one form or another.

A few months ago, I read up on cat eating issues and learned about whisker sensitivity. At that point, I switched her wet food into a wide, shallow, metal dish … and voilà! She eats nearly all her food now, and there’s less mess around that bowl. I also switched her water bowl and even catch her drinking sometimes (she used to rarely drink). I guess it’s officially time to get her a new dry food bowl, too, as she still has a tendency to spread her kibble around on the floor — but that might also be because she is missing some teeth and needs to eat more carefully than other cats. Sigh.

The good news is that pet product companies have begun creating “whisker friendly” and “whisker conscious” bowls. Hepper, Pet Fusion and Dr. Catsby all sell specially-designed dishes with a cat’s whisker situation in mind. Alternatively, you could also just try a flat plate — preferably made of stainless steel, ceramic or glass (not plastic, which can harbor bacteria and also cause a cat to refuse food).

Ergonomics — now for cats, too! Good luck, and remember to give those busy whiskers a rest.