Whisker Fatigue in Cats

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If you've never heard of whisker fatigue, don't worry. It's not necessarily a widely known condition. But for some cats, it does negatively impact daily life.

Why do cats have whiskers?

Cat whiskers are extraordinary sensing hairs that give them almost extrasensory powers. Despite their evolution, whiskers (tactile hairs or vibrissae), have remained as features on most mammals in some basic form.

For cats, whiskers are much more than facial adornments that add to their cuteness. Whiskers act as high-powered antennae that pull signals into their brain and nervous system. The ultra-sensitive sensory organs at the base of the whiskers, called proprioceptors, tell your cat a lot about their world. They provide your cat with information regarding their own orientation in space and the what and where of their environment. In these ways, whiskers help your cat move around furniture in a dark room, hunt fast-moving prey (by sensing changes in air currents) and help to determine if they can squeeze into that incredibly tight spot between the bookcase and the wall.

So what exactly is whisker fatigue?

While cats can voluntarily “turn on” the sensory focus of their whiskers exactly where they want, whisker receptors mostly respond to a cat’s autonomic system — the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves that respond to the internal and external environment without conscious control (for example—pupils constricting in response to bright light).

You can think of whisker fatigue as an information overload that stresses out your cat. Because whisker hairs are so sensitive, every time your cat comes into contact with an object or detects movement, even a small change in air current or a slight brush against their face, messages are transmitted from those sensory organs at the base of their whiskers to their brain. That barrage of “messages” could stress out your cat, eventually causing what some people call whisker fatigue.

However, “fatigue” may not be the best description of the condition, since what your cat is feeling is probably more like distaste or aversion than soreness or actual fatigue. In fact, whisker stress is another term some people use for the condition.

Not all feline vets think whisker fatigue is a real condition or cause for concern. Dr. Cathy Lund of City Kitty, a feline-only veterinary practice in Providence, R.I, questions the validity of whisker fatigue. While a cat’s whiskers do serve as very sensitive tactile sensors, she does not believe contact between whiskers and objects causes stress in cats. That said, stress, for whatever reason, is a real issue of concern for cat owners and vets.

What causes whisker fatigue?

While your cat relies on their fetching facial antennae to navigate the world, they can’t tune out unnecessary messages the way we filter out background noise. They inadvertently finds stimulation in the most common and ever-present situations, like at their food or water bowl. If their whiskers touch the sides of the bowl every time they dips their head to sip or eat, this can cause whisker fatigue, the theory suggests.

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Your cat’s behavior at their food and water bowl will tip you off that they are stressed. 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

  • Acting aggressive toward other animals around food

Of course these behaviors can also be related to potentially serious health conditions like dental disease, oral tumors, gastrointestinal diseases, behavioral problems and more, so if you have any concerns about your cat’s well-being, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Many vets, regardless of their opinions on whisker fatigue, agree that cats often find eating out of a bowl unappealing in general and providing a flat surface for meals is preferable.

Whisker fatigue is not a disease (and is not caused by or related to any type of illness) and appears to manifest primarily with the repeated daily contact with food and water bowls. However, a cat who is stressed is not happy, and if they avoid eating and drinking, they might become malnourished and/or dehydrated.

How can whisker fatigue be prevented?

Luckily, preventing or stopping stress related to whisker fatigue at feeding time is as easy as replacing your cat’s food and water bowls. At meal time, provide a flat surface or a wide-enough bowl for cat food so that their whiskers don't touch the sides of the bowl. In a pinch, a paper plate can serve as a suitable food dish.

Most cats prefer a lip-less, large flowing water source, for drinking. Ideally, cat parents should provide an automatic, fresh water source, like a cat water fountain, which cats prefer to an icky, stale bowl of water that might as well be from an old tire.

Some cat parents believe another solution is to trim their cats’ whiskers, but this is a giant no-no. Trimming whiskers mutes their expression, dims their perceptions, and in general, discombobulates cats and annoys them.

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Helping Children Deal With the Loss of a Pet

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Dealing with the loss of a pet is never easy. When dealing with the sudden loss due to an emergency illness or injury, or euthanasia, the decisions that must be made and the ultimate loss of the family pet bring up a lot of conflicting and difficult emotions.

When children are involved, special considerations must be made to help them understand what is going on and how to deal with the loss of a pet and grief that follows.

Preparing for Euthanasia

Euthanasia is “death by injection” for a terminally ill, suffering animal. Many people refer to this as “putting an animal to sleep”. The finality of death is a difficult concept, especially for children. Children can be confused and even frightened by the term “putting to sleep” if they see the lifeless pet after the euthanasia is performed.

When preparing for an appointment to have a terminally ill pet euthanized, it is best to speak in honest terms, at an appropriate level of detail for the child’s age. Very small children need to know that this is final — the pet isn’t going to wake up or come back. To say that the pet “went away” or is “in heaven” without offering any other details can also confuse children. Older children need to know the reasons why this decision is being made, and why it is humane for the suffering animal.

To be or not to be present at the actual euthanasia is a question many adults grapple with. This is a personal decision and one that should be discussed with your veterinarian. It is common practice that children under a certain age are not allowed to be present for the actual euthanasia. Children, especially under the age of 5, have a hard enough time understanding the concept of death and witnessing the event does not make it easier to understand or cope.

It is important to realize that when humans (adults and children) are upset, the pet is, too. While difficult, it is important that the humans try to lend support and comfort their animal friend in this last time of need. Seeing their humans upset may upset the pet, too.

Sudden Death or Finding a Pet Dead

For situations where the animal is fatally injured or is found dead from unknown causes, children need to be assured that the animal is no longer in pain. The shock can be more emotional than a “prepared for” death. If veterinary care was attempted, the child should be reminded that sometimes pets don’t survive, despite the attempts to save them.

Signs of Grief in Children

Children may take longer to grieve or “get over” the loss of a pet than adults. A short time of depression, acting out, or gloominess can be expected and should go away. Longer periods or abnormal activity following loss should be addressed by the parent, a counselor, or a grief/loss support resource. Warning signs of severe or prolonged grief will vary significantly with the variables of the child’s age, relationship with the pet, emotional maturity, circumstances involved with the death, and so on, but here are some general guidelines for recognizing grief in children:

  • Not interested in usual activities, withdrawing from friends and family

  • Eating considerably less than usual

  • Reverting to pre-potty training or bedwetting

  • Afraid of being alone or going to sleep, nightmares

  • Preoccupied with thoughts of death

Talking about the death of a pet with your child is a good first step. For more assistance and guidance, know that there are many grief and loss support resources and hotlines, many of them free of charge, available online and over the phone.

Moving Forward and the Time to Heal

Remembering the deceased pet

It is important to never belittle or ignore the child’s relationship with the deceased pet. To say that it was “just a goldfish, and we can get a new one tomorrow” dismisses the importance of the human-animal bond and does not address the child’s grief. Children often have imaginary friends that warrant conversations and emotions. Pets are real. They warrant true feelings and emotions, too. Take the time to remember your pet with your kids and do something special to help them navigate their feelings.


Having a burial, memorial, or similar ceremony helps to reinforce the importance of the pet’s life and mark the death event. Children should be allowed to participate in whatever way is appropriate. From helping mark the grave site, decorate the urn of ashes, or draw pictures of happy times together with the pet—whatever activity best fits with the child and allows them to say goodbye in their own way.

Getting a new pet

Getting a new pet is a very personal choice. Children should not be rushed into getting another pet to help them “get over” the deceased pet. One pet does not replace another, and getting a new pet too soon may only cause the child to resent or even mistreat the new pet. Only once a child can speak openly about a deceased pet and shows interest in a new pet should the subject of a new pet be discussed.

Dealing with the loss of a pet is never easy, but you are not alone. There are many grief/loss support resources available.

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How Dogs Experience Grief

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Losing a pet is a sad and stressful situation for everyone, including the other dogs in the household. You may not realize it, but dogs do grieve the loss of a companion. If you are dealing with the death of one of your dogs, there are several things you can do to help your remaining dog (or dogs) get through this difficult time.

What to expect after your dog loses a friend

Just like people, all dogs react differently to loss. Some dogs seem to act completely normal while others get deeply depressed. Certain dogs may develop health or behavior issues. Here are some common dog reactions to the death of another dog:

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If you notice any signs of grief in your dog, call your vet today.

  • Personality changes. Some dogs may seem to change some of their behaviors. If the dog that passed away was a leader, the dog left behind may feel it is now their responsibility to take on that job. You may notice them barking more at passersby or acting more outgoing or confident. Or, you may notice your dog is more withdrawn and quiet.

  • Physical symptoms. Dogs left behind may have physical symptoms in response to the loss of another pet. Some common symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, and sometimes even illness.

  • No signs. Some dogs may not even show signs after losing a companion dog. This does not mean the dog is not experiencing some kind of grief.

Stick to your routine

No matter how your dog may react to the loss of another pet, they are likely feeling the stress over the changes in the household. One of the best ways you can help your dog adjust to the loss is to stick as carefully and closely to their normal routine. Continue to feed and walk them at the same times. By sticking to the usual schedule, you are reducing their stress a great deal. Keeping a routine will also help you cope with your own grief of losing a pet.

Provide more exercise and stimulation

Chances are high that the dog that passed away played a large role in the day-to-day life of your other dog. They may have played together, napped together, ate together. Losing this relationship may leave your remaining dog feeling anxious or bored. You can help relieve or help deal with this boredom and anxiety by providing them more exercise and mental stimulation.

Some things you can do for your dog include going for an additional walk each day, providing plenty of interesting toys, starting an obedience program, and playing extra little games like fetch or tug-of-war. You can also just make time for extra cuddling and bonding time with one another.

Should I get another dog?

One of the first pieces of advice people often hear when they lose a dog is to run right out and get another dog. This is not always the right choice. Before you get another dog, here are a few things to consider:

  • Are you ready for another dog? Your life may have changed a great deal wince you first brought your dogs home and new dogs are often a lot of work. Make sure you are prepared and emotionally ready for this kind of commitment before taking on a new dog.

  • Make sure your dog will accept another dog. Although your dogs were inseparable before, this does not guarantee the remaining dog will have the same relationship with a new dog. We suggest before you bring a new song home, test out their interactions beforehand.

So let’s reiterate. Some dogs show physical symptoms of grief. Others may exhibit behavior changes. Stick to your routine and give your remaining dog lots of exercise and attention. If you notice further signs of concern or physical illness, schedule an appointment to speak with your vet.

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Aging Pet Care Awareness

Help your pet live a long healthy life.

Help your pet live a long healthy life.

A comment made frequently by pet owners is that pets don't live long enough. As veterinary medicine advances and pet lover's awareness grows, longer and healthier life spans are possible.

Average pet lifespan varies greatly between dogs, cats and breeds. That said, I was surprised by a recent survey of more than 1,000 people by PetAg, Inc. that showed one-third of American pet owners don’t know when their pet will become a senior. With 71 million pet-owning households in the U.S. alone, this "one-third" statistic translates to millions of households that do not know how to prepare for and provide the best care during their pet's senior years.

Knowing when a pet is a "senior" will help people make appropriate changes in diet, exercise and health examination schedules to ensure a long, healthy life of their pet.

As a general rule of thumb, dogs and cats are considered "senior" around age seven. Larger dogs sooner (age 5 or 6), and smaller dogs later (age 8 or 9). Dogs have such a large variety of breeds and sizes that there isn't a single age that automatically translates to senior status.

The most accurate way to plan for your pet's senior years is to make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss your pet's specific needs and age-related plan for optimal health.

Here are some age-related myths from the Aging Pet Care Awareness Survey:

MYTH: Pets and their owners age differently.
FACT: While the rate at which pets age is certainly different than humans, the changes seen with advancing age are very similar: changes in weight (gain or loss), dental problems, arthritic joints and heart troubles, to name a few. "Many of the same health and wellness strategies may be implemented in pets to increase longevity," notes Dr. Kelly Swanson, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois who teamed with PetAg to design the survey. A wellness/geriatric examination with your veterinarian is the perfect time to discuss an appropriate senior diet, supplements or medications to ease the pain of arthritis, and schedule a dental cleaning to keep teeth, gums, heart and liver healthy.

MYTH: As long as my pet isn't overweight, it isn't a major health concern.
FACT: While obesity is a huge health concern and one that actually "ages" animals faster, sudden weight loss or being chronically underweight is also a serious health concern. Diseases such as cancer, kidney failure, and Diabetes Mellitus can cause weight loss along with other symptoms, and must be addressed for optimum health.
At the other end of the body weight spectrum, two of the age-related symptoms most concerning to survey participants — aching joints (55.7%) and lack of energy (36%), are common symptoms of obesity that can be managed with proper diet and exercise.

MYTH: Exercise and engaging toys are the best ways to prevent cognitive decline.
FACT: Cognitive decline, or geriatric dementia, is something that is most often associated with human seniors, but pets are prone to age-related dementia, too.
Dementia in pets may manifest in different ways, most commonly: inappropriate vocalization (barking or meowing in the middle of the night), loss of house training (urinary accidents), getting "lost" in a corner or part of the house, and not interacting with family members as before.
The general confusion from dementia along with the above behavior changes may cause additional stress/fear/anxiety for the pet as well as for the human family members.
From the study: "maintaining proper levels of exercise can help maintain cognitive function, but Dr. Swanson explained that there is more evidence supporting dietary intervention, including the use of nutritional supplements. He suggests looking for products that include antioxidants (i.e. vitamins E, C and beta carotene) or those with omega-3 fatty acids." Please check with your veterinarian to see what product(s) or medications may be able to help your senior pet.

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Schedule an appointment with your vet today to talk about your aging pet’s health.

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Keeping Your Cat Cool in the Summer

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Cats and hot weather don't always go well together.

During the summer months, cats are just as at risk of dehydration and heatstroke as the rest of us.

These are serious conditions that can lead to illness and even death. Here are some steps on how to cool your cat down and how to keep your cat cool in hot weather.

Make sure your cat has plenty of water.

It’s common sense but you should check your cat’s water bowl regularly and fill it up whenever it’s low. Cats can’t survive for long without it.

Ensure there’s a shaded spot in your garden or yard.

If you have an outdoor cat and there are no naturally occurring shady spots in your garden, create one by placing some cloth or cardboard over an area to keep the sun out. Also, make sure you check outdoor buildings like sheds and greenhouses before shutting them as cats often get locked in accidentally overnight.

Brush your cat daily.

Matted hair traps heat so give them a daily groom if possible. This is especially important for long-haired cats.

Keep cats out of conservatories and greenhouses.

These areas can get dangerously hot even when the weather just feels warm. Bear in mind that they both exclude cooling breezes and magnify the heat. Cats are also prone to getting accidentally trapped in conservatories and greenhouses (curiosity truly can kill the cat).

Use damp towels to cool down your cat.

The warmest part of a cat’s body is their tummies, the pads of their paws, their armpits, under their chin and on the outside of their ears. Although most cats hate getting wet, try dampening a cloth with cold water and gently stroking your cat with it from their head and down their back.

Keep your cat calm.

A very active cat that is running around on a hot day will quickly become exhausted and dehydrated. Encourage your cat to relax when temperatures outside are soaring.

Create a retreat.

Cats are clever when it comes to comfort and they will seek out places such as the bath or sink as these often stay cool even when it’s hot outside. You could also try creating a cool and darkened indoor retreat for them to sleep in and feel safe. A top tip is to place a cardboard box on its side and position it somewhere cool and quiet in the house, such as behind a chair or on a cool surface like a wooden floor. Line it with a breathable natural fabric such as a cotton towel.

Keep outdoors cats indoors.

If temperatures really soar, then it’s worth considering keeping your cat inside during the hottest hours of the day.

Take care in the car.

It’s less common for cats to travel in cars than dogs, but they are just as susceptible to the risks. If you are taking your cat to the vets or a cat show, for example, never leave them in the car. Always make sure their carriers are secure, shaded and allow air to circulate. Solid plastic boxes with a secure wire mesh door are preferable.

Encourage cool play.

Ice cubes are a great way for cats to play and keep cool at the same time. Put a few on the floor so they can chase them as they scatter around the floor. Perhaps even consider flavoring the ice with a hint of chicken stock to encourage their interest.

Close the curtains.

Things that keep you cool will also benefit your cat — keeping curtains or blinds closed will keep the sun out.

Watch out for signs of heat stroke.

Although this generally only occurs on really hot days, it’s worth being aware of. Symptoms of heat stroke can include agitation, stretching out and breathing rapidly, extreme distress, skin hot to the touch, glazed eyes, vomiting and drooling. If you’re at all worried about your cat, contact your vet immediately.

Circulate cool air.

Open the windows, turn on a box fan or keep air conditioning at a reasonable temperature. Your cat will appreciate having a cool place to relax indoors if it’s scorching outside.

Cats and hot weather could mean sunburn.

Don’t forget cats are susceptible to sunburn, particularly those with white ears and noses. This can lead to painful blistering and sores, and long-term exposure can lead to skin cancers. It is possible to buy pet sunscreen to apply to the hairless areas on the end of the ears and nose. It’s also advisable to keep white-faced cats indoors during the heat of the afternoon.

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