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 anything is wrong with your cat’s health.
A cat’s whiskers are an amazing part of feline anatomy. Without them, a cat wouldn’t be able to function optimally. Whiskers can cause cats significant issues though, including a painful condition called whisker fatigue.
- 1 What is the Function of Whiskers in Cats?
- 2 Why Do Whiskers Break Off?
- 3 Can Broken Whiskers be Prevented?
- 4 What is Whisker Fatigue?
- 5 My Cat Has Lost All Their Whiskers
- 6 My Senior Cat’s Whiskers Keep Breaking and Falling Out
What is the Function of Whiskers in Cats?
The whiskers are not just decorative. They serve three critical functions:
- A cat’s whiskers pick up on sensory vibrations in the air. This aids hunting, and warns the feline of any approaching predators.
- A cat’s whiskers help them judge sizes and dimensions. Your cat will use their whiskers to test if they can squeeze into a confined space.
- A cat’s whiskers are another vital part of feline body language. We can tell a lot about how a cat is feeling by their whiskers.
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.
Cat Whiskers Pick Up on Air Pressure
A cat’s whiskers act almost like a radar. They pick up vibrations from the air around a feline, and send information to the brain. This is why cats seem to react so quickly to what appears to be nothing.
When they leap from their resting place, it’s usually because their whiskers picked up on a change to the air pressure behind them. Survival instinct kicks in, and your cat wants to get away from danger.
Likewise, your cat’s whiskers come in handy when hunting. These vibrations mean that your cat can pick up on 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 on the floor, it’s only a matter of time before your cat climbs inside it. Felines love enclosed spaces, as they make them feel safe. The cat will use their whiskers to judge whether they’ll fit inside.
This is due to vibrations again, as Southgate Animal Hospital explains. Your cat will put their face into an opening. From here, their whiskers will send a message to the brain.
If they sense vibrations, they know it’s a tight space, but they can squeeze in. If space is too tight for the whiskers to sit comfortably, your cat will leave.
Naturally, this isn’t foolproof. If your cat is a little on the chunky side, their body will be wider than their whiskers. This can lead to embarrassing situations.
This technique is another reason why feline whiskers must be kept in good condition. Without their whiskers, cats could find themselves trapped in spaces from which 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 feels the same. A cat with immobile whiskers is perfectly tranquil, and not on alert.
- Flat Against the Face. This suggests a fear-based reaction. Something has spooked your cat, and they should be handled with caution.
- Spread Out Wide. Your cat is trying to make themselves 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, they are hunting.
Take a look at your cat, and observe which way their whiskers are facing. You will now be able to tell how they’re feeling, and what they’re planning.
Why Do Whiskers Break Off?
Cat whiskers are like fingernails in humans. If your cat remains sedentary, they’ll remain unbroken. The more active and energetic your pet is, however, the more likely they are to break a whisker.
Thankfully, cat breaking a whisker organically will not experience any pain. Cats shed and regrow whiskers throughout their life. When a whisker snaps, it’s usually coming to the end of its natural life anyway. As a result, your pet will probably not act any differently.
It’s beneficial to learn how to recognize broken whisker symptoms, so you can watch your cat’s reaction. These include:
- 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 well will one broken whisker. The typical feline muzzle features 12 whiskers on each side, so they remain functional. If they do not show any reaction, you have nothing to worry about.
Can Broken Whiskers be Prevented?
Cats that play boisterously will always risk breaking their whiskers. Pets that roam outdoors will always find something they damage their whiskers on. If your cat doesn’t appear to be bothered by this, there’s no real need for you to be. Their whiskers will grow back.
If you are concerned, however, consider trying to calm your cat down. The less agitated your cat is, the less alert they’ll be. The less alert they are, the less wear and tear their whiskers will experience. This will help the whiskers stay in shape 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. This will keep your cat as zen as any feline could ever hope to be.
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 they are 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 their whiskers become sore, and cats want to rest and avoid any stimulation. They’ll recover before long – they need a break. However, sore whiskers can make day-to-day activity troublesome for your cat.
They may refuse to use their flap, for example, as their whiskers rub against the side. They may also refuse food or water, as their whiskers touch the side of the bowl.
Your cat will bounce back before long. Consider opening doors and serving food on a flat plate until then, however.
Should I Trim My Cat’s Whiskers?
This is one of the cruelest things that can be done to a feline. It will hurt.
Cats grow extremely disconcerted and nervous without their whiskers. A cat without whiskers will not be able to assess and understand their 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 they cannot use their whiskers.
My Cat Has Lost All Their Whiskers
If you discover your kitten has lost all of their 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 a new set.
This happens when your kitten is around 11 weeks old. Even from there, they’ll continue to break and lose whiskers. Young cats play rough, which means that they’ll be forever breaking their whiskers. If your kitten isn’t in discomfort, leave them to it. The whiskers will grow back.
If your cat is older, it’s more concerning if they lose multiple whiskers at once. While felines shed and regrow their whiskers over their lifetime, it’s usually a gradual process.
Typically, a cat will lose two or three whiskers at a time. If your cat loses lots of whiskers seemingly at once, they may be stressed.
This is an issue, as they’ll become even more anxious when they realize their whiskers are gone. You’ll have to assess what is causing your cat some mental anguish, and quickly. Usually, feline anxiety and stress related to changes they 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, see a vet. They may need medication to control their 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 at capacity.
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.
It may be a case that your cat is growing older. Like humans, cat bodies break down in age, little by little. Your pet may be struggling to replace damaged tissue. However, they could be sick or may even require changes to their diet.
Broken cat whiskers are natural side effects of an active life, or worrying symptoms of illness. We apologize for the unhelpfulness of this broad summary, but it’s true. 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 really worth worrying if they cat sheds or breaks several whiskers at once.
If this is the case, or the whiskers of your sedentary break regularly, see a vet. There’s no good reason for an active pet to experience brittle whiskers.