Whiskers break off for many reasons but most are connected to shedding, play, curiosity, and illness. In the majority of cases, a missing or shortened whisker is normal and healthy. In this regard, whiskers are similar to fingernails in that a minor break or crack is to be expected.
It is better for them to break off naturally due to wear and tear than for overly long cat’s whiskers to be intentionally shortened by a pet owner. They serve such a vital purpose with regard to a cat’s ability to navigate small spaces, but whiskers don’t help with balance. Accidental breakage is to be expected, but trimming by a human should never occur.
Unless illness is to blame, a cat’s whiskers will always grow back healthy and return to their previous length. This is why natural breakage is normal and a result of a healthy and active lifestyle. You should only concern yourself with broken whiskers if the damage is perpetual and the whiskers are split, curled, much shorter than before, etc. If these issues occur, you should consult your vet for further advice.
In this article, we will discuss the vital role that whiskers play, the most common reasons for breakage, and the issue of whisker fatigue.
What is the Function of Whiskers?
According to PetMD, the primary function of your cat’s whiskers is depth perception.
Similar to a person’s hands and fingers, whiskers allow your cat to judge distance, maneuver swiftly, jumping gracefully, and navigate tight spots. The reason a cat can move without hesitation is due to the signals that are transmitted by their whiskers to the brain. Incredibly sensitive, whiskers can also inform your cat of subtle changes in his or her environment.
It is for these critical reasons that intentional breaking off whiskers or trimming should never be exercised. If your cat’s whiskers are long, leave them that way. They are far more than an extension or your cat’s fur or an appearance piece!
Why Do Whiskers Break Off?
Your cat may lose whiskers here and there for various reasons. However, most are due to natural shedding and living life playfully and curiously. Able to be caught and snagged quite easily, whiskers can easily break off when pressure is exerted.
Although rare, it is possible for your cat to rub whiskers off. Your cat may use its head (frequently) to create a scent trail or bunt heads with humans and other cats with whom it has developed a loving bond. This can result in the loss of whiskers.
This is often seen in kittens or young adult felines who are attempting to stake claim to new territory. Cats that grow up with competition from their litter or other surrounding cats (neighborhood) are more likely to scent mark in this fashion and rub off whiskers.
1) Natural Shedding and Regrowth
When a kitten is 2-3 months old, it will shed whiskers. This can be due to a natural shedding and regrowth process or your feline’s first experience with aggressive play.
It is not uncommon for kittens to have broken or jagged whiskers as initial growth, regrowth, and breakage are taking place within the same cycle. If your cat is growing up with a few littermates, breakage and regrowth will be virtually constant.
- Whiskers regrow in a matter of weeks. Some growth is faster than others, but any broken or missing whiskers will return. Due to the breed and coat color of some cats, whiskers can break and regrow without an owner ever being aware of an issue. Whiskers that grown above the eyes can often be more difficult to see.
2) Rough Play and Stalking
Whisker loss in adult cats is primarily the result of playing rough, stalking, and curiosity. This occurs more if your cat spends its time outdoors. Because there is more opportunity for whiskers to become broken or removed entirely, an outdoor setting may lead to damage.
Cats that enjoy stalking prey and following said prey into tight locations may have their whiskers caught and snagged by various objects. Broken whiskers on one side are often the result of whiskers becoming trapped by an object or debris from wooded and green growth areas.
- Bushes and trees
- The underside of a vehicle
- Outdoor patio furniture
Although the least likely, whisker loss and damage can be a symptom of illness. This is most likely if the whiskers are always broken, missing or constantly damaged to some extent. Whiskers that keep falling out and whiskers that have split ends can be a real cause for concern.
If your cat has a whisker issue and this is coupled with weight loss or other physical symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea, we encourage you to consult your vet for testing and medical diagnosis.
Broken Whiskers Symptoms
If you are a new cat owner and are unfamiliar with the appearance of broken are damaged whiskers, there are several signs to look for that can be helpful. Although the absence of whiskers is quite obvious, shortened whiskers can be a sign of breakage.
- Dramatically shortened whiskers compared to others in the same area
- A noticeable gap due to missing whiskers
- Facial swelling in a whisker growth area
- Dangling whiskers and different whisker placement
Can Broken Whiskers be Prevented?
Whisker damage and breakage can be prevented to an extent depending on your cat’s daily routine. If your cat stays outdoors for much of the day, the best solution is to keep them inside. Eliminating “whisker traps” is half of the battle and the great outdoors offers many.
If your cat’s whisker issue is due to playing aggressively with other cats in your home, you may wish to separate them as much as possible. Introduce new toys for each cat to play with so they will not be as tempted to play fight and wrestle.
You may also be inclined to change the smell and sound in the air. Noise machines and fresh scents can offer a calming and relaxing environment. This can keep your cat in a happy mood where aggression is less easily provoked.
Do you have large pens or cages for cats? It never hurts to give your pets a timeout. If whiskers are being lost due to playfulness, you may need to place your cats in cages and allow everyone to calm down during a long nap.
While broken and damaged whiskers are generally no big deal, aggression can be a legitimate concern. If whiskers are being damaged as the result of a little too much curiosity or fighting tendencies, those issues will need to be addressed separately.
- Seek professional care for your cat. Scheduling a checkup with your vet every 6-12 months can relieve many of your worries. Routine exams can detect any unusual changes while also granting you much-needed peace of mind.
Do Whiskers Change with Age?
Contrary to popular belief, whiskers do not grow more rapidly with age. However, the whiskers of a senior cat may fall out easier. For this reason, you should always protect an older cat from the elements. This includes environmental factors as well as rival cats.
A senior cat’s whiskers may change in color. As time passes, some whiskers may turn gray or lose their stiffness. If you have taken care of your cat for many years, you may begin to notice a slight “drooping” in your cat’s whiskers compared to when they were younger.
What is Whisker Fatigue?
According to the New York Times, whisker fatigue (whisker stress) occurs when they become overstimulated. Vital acts such as eating, drinking, sleeping, and physical interaction with people can all lead to whisker fatigue.
Both annoying and potentially painful, whisker stress can change your cat’s mood and daily habits.
Notable signs of whisker fatigue may include…
- Food bowl avoidance
- Removing food from the bowl to the floor
- Not eating or drinking
- Aggressive behavior
Because the primary source of the problem comes from bowls and dishes, the most effective way to assist your cat is to change the serving containers. Food and water that is served in a shallow and wide bowl will provide a less problematic experience for your cat.