Skip to main content

Whisker fatigue: Your cat might have this strange condition without you knowing

What does whisker fatigue look like? Here's what to know about this condition

If your cat is acting unusual when they try to eat or drink, there are a number of problems you’ll want to rule out. Odds are, though, you’re not dealing with a major issue! So instead of worrying, keep an eye on your furry friend and make a note of the symptoms they’re showing or experiencing. While you should contact your vet for any long-term or severe concerns, you just might be able to figure out the problem right at home.

In some cases, it might actually be your cat’s whiskers causing them extra mealtime stress. Felines can suffer from something called whisker fatigue, which is actually more overstimulation than it is fatigue. Still, it’s a relatively new problem that’s gaining attention among veterinarians and pet owners alike – -and it just might be affecting your cat, too.

Here’s what to know about whisker fatigue.

A close-up picture of a tabby cat's nose, eye, and whiskers
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What is whisker fatigue?

Whiskers are so much more than cute little hairs on your kitty’s face. These hairs are also known as tactile hairs or vibrissae, and they help cats perceive a lot of sensory information about the world around them. As Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center explains, the nerve endings at the base of cats’ whiskers “help cats orient themselves, navigate their environment in the dark, hunt for prey (by sensing air currents), and determine whether or not they can fit into a tight space.”

Despite being called “whisker fatigue,” cats’ whiskers don’t actually get tired. Instead, they can become stressed and overstimulated from whisker overuse (via Lone Tree Vet). Think of it like working with your hands nonstop — they’re going to become tired and sore eventually, right?

Eating and drinking from specific kinds of bowls can be a common cause of whisker fatigue, but anything has the potential to overstimulate your feline’s senses. West Park Animal Hospital explains, “overstimulation of your cat’s whiskers is likely troublesome to some cats and can be a source of stress.”

An orange tabby kitten sits in a bush and looks up
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What does whisker fatigue look like?

Like West Park Animal Hospital mentioned, you’ll likely see a lot of stressed-out behavior when a cat suffers from whisker fatigue. You might even see your cat drinking from somewhere unusual, like a faucet. Their general grumpiness or refusal to eat might tip you off to what’s going on, but that’s not the only symptom to keep an eye out for. Lone Tree Vet lists other symptoms of whisker fatigue as:

  • Not settling in front of their food or water bowl
  • Trying to eat but not eating
  • Tipping bowl over to eat off the floor
  • New food aggression behavior

Of course, if your cat isn’t eating for multiple days or seems to be in great distress, visiting your trusted veterinarian might be your best move.

A border collie dog looks into the camera with an open mouth
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Do dogs get whisker fatigue?

Our canine friends have whiskers, too, so it would only make sense that they experience whisker fatigue as well, right? Actually, this newly recognized phenomenon is usually only seen in cats. As Lugaru K9 Training states, dogs don’t tend to experience whisker fatigue because their whiskers are naturally desensitized to some stimuli. This is thanks to all the playing, digging, and sniffing they do every day.

That’s not to say that dogs can’t experience sensory overstimulation, but it tends not to affect basic behaviors in the way that whisker fatigue does to cats.

A close-up of a gray cat's whiskers
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How to ease symptoms of whisker fatigue

Luckily, overstimulation is easy to remedy — whether you’re a human, a canine, or a cat. For felines that are experiencing whisker fatigue, an anti-whisker-fatigue bowl for food and water might be the solution they need. Lone Tree Vet recommends using “a wide, flat bowl with plenty of space for the whiskers to clear the bowl on both sides of your cat’s face,” though you can always try a plate, too.

It can be worrisome to see a pet struggling with eating or drinking, but helping a cat with whisker fatigue is surprisingly simple. If switching up food and water bowls doesn’t do the trick; don’t hesitate to enlist the help of your local veterinarian. Your fur baby’s health comes first — from their whiskers to their tail!

Editors' Recommendations

Gabrielle LaFrank
Gabrielle LaFrank has written for sites such as Psych2Go, Elite Daily, and, currently, PawTracks. When she's not writing, you…
Lap time, nap time: Why your cat chooses to sit on you
Find out the real reasons your cat lies in your lap
Cat sitting in a lap

As a pet parent, nothing is better than when your cat decides to curl up for a nap on your lap. Sometimes it can be slightly irritating when you need to get some work done, attempt to move your fur baby, and they look at you like you've not only offended them, but also the entire domestic cat species. But it's impossible to say no to their adorable noses and whiskers, so you let them stay. Have you ever wondered why so many of our feline family members become lap cats? We'll tell you everything you need to know about why cats love to sit on you.
Reasons your cat loves to sit on you
Wonder why your lap is your cat's favorite place to sleep? Here are some of the most common reasons.
Cats sit on you because they seek connection and attention
Despite their reputation for being aloof, most cats crave attention, especially from their favorite people. Cats get lonely when you’re not around and will beg for attention when you are. One way they do this is by sitting on your lap; it’s hard to ignore them when they’re right on top of you! They also come to you for connection and love. Usually, a cat on the lap gets affection, so your cat may come to you when they want to be petted and feel loved.
Cats get on your lap because you’re warm
Whether it’s by the radiator or in a sunbeam, kitties love napping in warm spots. One of the coziest places in your home happens to be wherever you are because of the heat your body emits! This could be why your cat likes sitting with you. They may choose to sit on your lap because they want to soak up all your body heat. Luckily, it’s not a one-way street; your cat’s body heat and fur can help keep you warm, too. With your lap cat, you’ll both stay nice and cozy.
Cats sit on you because they trust you
Sitting on top of you is a cat's ultimate sign of trust. Cats only sit in the laps of people they really feel safe with. This is especially true if they nap on you. Your cat is essentially saying they trust you to protect them from any predators while they're napping. To build even more trust with your pet, make sure you’re not forcing them to sit on your lap, and you’re giving them the option to walk away when they want. By acknowledging their freedom and leaving your lap open to your kitty, you're encouraging them to trust you even more.
Cats like the way you smell and sound
Your body is like a white-noise machine for cats. They find the noises human beings naturally make, like breathing and heartbeats, to be very soothing. It helps them relax into an easy slumber. Your cat may also be attracted to your unique scent. Smelling you may make your cat feel safer, making it easier for them to fall asleep. This can also explain why your cat always seems to love sleeping on your clothes, bed, and other possessions.

Your clothes feel nice to a cat
Have you noticed that your cat sleeps on your lap only when you’re wearing certain things? Cats love to nap in warm, comfy spots. They’re also sensitive to certain textures, favoring soft, fuzzy materials over scratchy ones. If you’re wearing a fluffy fleece sweatshirt or a soft bathrobe, your cat may be more likely to cozy up to you. But if you’re wearing a vinyl raincoat, they may not be as interested.
Of course, your cat likes you
In addition to trusting you and wanting your attention, a cat sitting on your lap usually means that they like you! Lots of cats choose a favorite human. Cats have many ways of showing their affection, like purring, nudging you, and sitting in your lap. It’s high praise coming from a cat. They’re more likely to rest next to their favorite person than anyone else in the room.
Your cat is marking their territory
Many cats naturally feel the need to claim their territory, which might include you and your bed. Cats rub their heads and leave behind pheromones on whatever they feel is theirs. Then, when other cats come along, they can smell those pheromones and will recognize that they’re in another cat’s territory.

Read more
Can cats have autism? Here’s what to know about unusual behavior in cats
Learn about special needs and autism in cats
Cat with blue eyes staring into the distance

Can cats have autism? This is a question that might have crossed your mind as you try to decipher your cat's behavior patterns. Even though the diagnosis is centered on human behavior, many pet lovers and experts have discovered similarities between special-needs cats and people with autism. Still, cats are typically only labeled as special needs if they have a diagnosed physical or mental disability.

There are several behaviors in cats that are similar to those found in humans on the autism spectrum. These include:

Read more
Everything you need to know about the munchkin cat: Some facts may surprise you
Get to know the scoop before you adopt a munchkin cat
A gray munchkin cat kitten stands on top of a white dressing table

Watching cute cat videos has become a hobby in of itself in modern times, and we're here for it. Some particularly cute kitties seem to go viral all the time, and it's no surprise that many of the most popular videos on TikTok feature an adorable munchkin cat. Whether you're a longtime fan or you recently discovered the breed online, you may wonder what a munchkin cat even is. Let's find out more about these curious kitties.
Munchkin cats: Getting to know the breed
With their short, stubby legs, elongated bodies, and insatiable curiosity, munchkin cats are a unique breed in the world of cats. In fact, these short-legged stunners wouldn't look entirely out of place in fantastical literature. (Is it just us, or do munchkin cats look like the noble steeds of fairy kings and queens?) Munchkin cats have appeared and disappeared many times throughout history because this genetic mutation can pop up anywhere. However, the modern-day munchkins come from the tiny town of Rayville, Louisiana.

Sandra Hochendel, a Rayville music teacher, found two pregnant munchkins — one black, one gray — cowering underneath a truck. Hochendel kept the black cat, which she named Blackberry, and she rehomed the gray cat, dubbed Blueberry. Unfortunately, no one knows what became of Blueberry, but we can attribute all modern-day munchkins to Blackberry and her progeny.

Read more