You hear it all the time: “My cat is so picky! I offer her the very best cat food, and she rejects it!” So, we wonder, What’s with that? One answer may have to do with your cat’s sensitive whiskers.
Aren’t feline whiskers just hair?
Not really. More than attractive adornment, feline whiskers, or vibrissae, are specialized “touch receptors” that connect to the cat’s muscular and nervous systems. A feline’s astounding ability to safely execute rapid, graceful maneuvers, for example, relies on this sensory connection.
Vibrissae signal even the smallest changes in a cat’s environment and give the cat “a heightened sense of feeling” enabling it to respond accordingly — “sort of like kitty radar,” Yahaira Cespedes writes on the petMD website (http://bit.ly/1hRyRpu). Helping a cat gauge the size of spaces, sense vibrations in the air, and map its surroundings — even in the dark — cat whiskers are miraculous sensory tools that safeguard these amazing animals.
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A recent theory of some feline experts is that cats may experience stress — whisker fatigue — when their delicate whiskers repeatedly bump the sides of their food or water dishes as they eat or drink. Although scientific research on whisker fatigue is not available, numerous cat-owner and veterinary anecdotes can be found online. Cat owners report that feeding-time behaviors they initially characterized as “pickiness” disappeared when food was offered in wide (i.e., whisker-span width), shallow dishes.
Dr. Neil Marrinan of the Old Lyme Veterinary Hospital in Connecticut notes on petMD (http://bit.ly/2nxMwMC) that stress in felines can be revealed in their behavior at their food and water bowls: “Some signs to watch for include pacing in front of the bowls, being reluctant to eat but appearing to be hungry, pawing at food and knocking it to the floor before eating, or acting aggressive toward other animals around food.”
Dr. Marrinan adds that these behaviors can also indicate potentially serious health conditions. He recommends talking to your veterinarian about any concerns you have regarding your cat’s behavior.
Several pet-related businesses now offer “whisker friendly” cat dishes, while the traditional or price conscious among us may favor a standard, wide, shallow plate or bowl. Keep in mind, though, that no dish is likely to solve all your “finicky feline” issues — after all, we are talking about cats.
The Homeless Animal Rescue team’s quarterly column is special to The Cambrian. Visit HART’s no-kill shelter at 2638 Main St., Cambria, CA 93428, email firstname.lastname@example.org or find HART online at www.slohart.org.