The whiskers are an instantly recognizable feature of all felines. So, it can be alarming when a cat’s whiskers break off all of a sudden. It makes you wonder if something is wrong with your cat’s health.
Cats that spend a lot of time outside or playing rough will frequently break their whiskers. It’s relatively painless and they’ll grow back quickly. However, if your cat is sedentary and her whiskers break without impact, this could be a warning sign of sickness or poor diet.
The whiskers are an amazing part of feline anatomy. Without them, a cat wouldn’t be able to function optimally. A cat’s whiskers can experience significant issues, such as whisker fatigue.
What is the Function of Whiskers in Cats?
The whiskers serve three critical functions:
- They pick up on sensory vibrations in the air. This helps with hunting, and warns cats about any approaching predators.
- They help your pet to judge sizes and dimensions. Your cat will use her whiskers to check if she can squeeze/fit into a confined space.
- They are a vital part of feline body language, so you can tell a lot about how your cat is feeling.
One function that whiskers do not perform is helping a cat to balance. This is a myth, which has long since been disproved. Feline balance comes from the inner ear, not the whiskers.
Cat Whiskers Pick Up on Air Pressure
The whiskers act as a radar. They pick up vibrations from the air around your cat and send information to the brain. This is why cats seem to react so quickly to what ‘appears’ to be nothing.
When she leaps from her resting place, it’s usually because her whiskers picked up on a change to the air pressure behind her. Survival instinct kicks in and your cat seeks to get away from danger.
Likewise, the whiskers come in handy when hunting. These vibrations mean that your cat can detect subtle actions from prey. Rather than just watching and reacting after the fact, cats can anticipate their prey’s every move.
Cats Use Whiskers to Judge Spaces
If you have a cardboard box, it’s only a matter of time before your cat climbs inside it. Felines love enclosed spaces as they feel safe. The cat will use her whiskers to judge whether they’ll fit inside.
This is due to vibrations, as Southgate Animal Hospital explains. Your cat will put her face into the opening. From here, her whiskers will send a message to the brain.
If she senses vibrations, she’ll know that it’s a tight space, but she can squeeze in. If space is too tight for the whiskers to sit comfortably, your cat will just leave.
Naturally, this isn’t foolproof. If your cat is a little heavy, then her body will be wider than her whiskers. This can mean that your cat will misjudge her size relative to the amount of space.
This technique is another reason why feline whiskers must be kept in good condition. Without whiskers, cats could find themselves trapped in spaces they cannot escape.
What Do Cat Whisker Positions Mean?
As Catster explains, there are four primary positions for a feline’s facial whiskers.
- Immobile. If your cat’s whiskers are relaxed, your pet also feels relaxed. A cat with immobile whiskers is perfectly tranquil and not on high alert.
- Flat Against the Face. This suggests a fear-based reaction. Something has spooked your cat and she should be handled with extreme caution.
- Spread Out Wide. Your cat is trying to make herself look bigger to scare off a potential predator. A cat with spread whiskers is deep in fight-or-flight mode.
- Facing Forward. If your cat’s whiskers are facing forward, as though reaching for something, she is in hunting mode.
Take a look at your cat and observe which way her whiskers are facing. You will now be able to tell how she’s feeling, and what she’s planning to do next.
Why Do Whiskers Break Off?
Cat whiskers are like fingernails in humans. If your cat remains sedentary, her whiskers will remain unbroken. The more active and energetic your cat, the more likely she is to break a whisker.
A cat that breaks a whisker through general wear and tear will not experience any pain. Cats shed and regrow whiskers throughout their lives. When a whisker snaps, it’s usually coming to the end of its natural life. Your pet will probably not act any differently when this happens.
Here’s how to recognize broken whisker symptoms:
- One whisker is looking considerably shorter than the others.
- One whisker looking hanging limply, especially when the others are active.
- Swelling around the whiskers, as though the area is damaged.
Of course, you may also notice a gap around your cat’s muzzle where a whisker should be. Cats can cope with one broken whisker. The typical feline muzzle features 12 whiskers on each side, so they remain functional. If she does not show any reaction, you have nothing to worry about.
Can Broken Whiskers Be Prevented?
Cats that play aggressively will always risk breaking their whiskers. Pets that roam outdoors will always find something to damage their whiskers on. If your cat doesn’t appear to be bothered by this, there’s no real need for you to be concerned either. Her whiskers will grow back.
If you are concerned, consider trying to calm your cat down. The less agitated she is, the less alert she’ll be. The less alert she is, the less wear and tear that her whiskers will experience. This will help her whiskers to remain healthy for longer.
As cats are so scent-driven, a calming aroma is best. Cat Time suggests that lavender, neroli, and rose is an ideal combination. Pair this scent alongside some calming classical music.
What is Whisker Fatigue?
Whisker fatigue occurs when cats are exposed to excessive stimuli. Cats can choose whether to detect sensation through their whiskers, but they often default to doing so. This means that your cat’s whiskers are continually picking up on changes to air pressure.
If your cat likes to roam outdoors, this means that she is subject to a constant barrage of information. Imagine a roll of fishing line unspooled ahead of you, and held out straight. If this line is flicked, it will remain tense, but vibrate in acknowledgment of the contact. This is what happens to your cat’s whiskers whenever they pick up on air pressure changes.
After a while her whiskers become sore, and cats want to rest and avoid any stimulation. She’ll recover before long. But sore whiskers can make day-to-day activity troublesome for your cat.
She may refuse to use her flap, for example, as her whiskers rub against the sides. She may also refuse food or water, as her whiskers touch the side of the bowl. Your cat will bounce back before too long. Consider opening doors and serving food on a flat plate until then, however.
Should I Trim My Cat’s Whiskers?
Cats grow extremely disconcerted and nervous without their whiskers. A cat without whiskers will not be able to assess and understand her surroundings.
Imagine being in a pitch-dark room and being unable to find your way around through touch. That’s how it feels for a cat when she cannot use her whiskers.
My Cat Has Lost All Her Whiskers
If your kitten has lost all of her whiskers, seemingly overnight, don’t panic. This is a common part of the feline growing experience. Like baby teeth, kittens shed their whiskers and grow new ones.
This happens when your kitten is around 11 weeks old. Even from there, she’ll continue to break and lose whiskers. Young cats play rough, which means that they’ll be forever breaking off whiskers. If your kitten isn’t in discomfort, leave her to it. The whiskers will grow back.
If your cat is older, it’s more concerning if she loses multiple whiskers at once. While felines shed and regrow their whiskers over the course of their lifetime, it’s usually a gradual process. A cat will lose two or three whiskers at a time. If your cat loses lots of whiskers at once, she may be stressed.
This is an issue, as she’ll become even more anxious when she realizes that her whiskers are gone. You’ll have to assess what is causing your cat mental anguish, and quickly. Usually, feline anxiety and stress are related to changes that cats cannot control.
This could include moving house, losing a feline friend, or a new human family member arriving. If you can’t seem to reassure your cat, she may need medication to control her anxiety.
My Senior Cat’s Whiskers Keep Breaking and Falling Out
Older cats should be monitored carefully if they start to lose their whiskers. This could be a sign that their internal organs are not functioning efficiently.
If an older cat appears to have poor-quality whiskers, look out for other symptoms of ill health. These could include bad breath, discolored gums, and hair loss.
Cat bodies break down in age, little by little. Your pet may be struggling to replace damaged tissue. However, she could be sick or require specific changes to her diet.
Broken whiskers in cats are natural side effects of living an active life, but they can also be the worrying symptoms of feline illness. What a broken whisker represents depends on your cat. In most cases, broken whiskers are not a problem. They’re a consequence of active and mischievous cats experiencing adventures.
One broken whisker in an energetic cat is typically a minor inconvenience at worst. It’s only worth taking action if your cat sheds or breaks several whiskers at the same time. If this is the case, or the whiskers of your sedentary cat break regularly, seek medical intervention from a vet.