Finding a whisker or two lying around the house occasionally is nothing to worry about; it’s a regular part of your cat’s hair growth cycle. You’re probably already aware that your cat sheds their fur—well, the same is true for their whiskers!
Most indoor felines shed their fur in low levels all year round, with the new hair growing in to replace it multiple times each year. Though your four-legged friend will not lose their whiskers as often as they lose their fur, the process is similar, with scraggly or damaged whiskers falling out so that new and healthy ones can grow in their place.
It’s important to note that whisker shedding is not seasonal, so your cat will not shed their whiskers all at once. An individual whisker will fall out every couple of months, and each whisker will be in a different phase of the shedding cycle at any given time.
Whisker shedding in felines is healthy and normal, with some lore even suggesting that finding a cat whisker is good luck!
- Navigation. Whiskers can detect even the most subtle changes in air currents, providing information about the size, shape, and speed of nearby objects. This prevents cats from bumping into things and enables them to locate their food bowls, even during nighttime. Whiskers also help cats determine if they can fit through a small space without getting stuck.
- Balance. Ever wondered how your cat can walk along a narrow ledge without falling off, or how they always land on their feet? Felines have their whiskers, or more specifically the proprioceptors located at the ends, to thank for their pawsome sense of balance. Because of these sensory receptors, a cat will always know where their body and limbs are in space and in relation to one another.
- Visual aid. Cats have poor near vision, but whiskers allow them to sense objects that are up close. For example, a cat who has caught a prey will rely on the whiskers on the back of their front paws to “see” it.
- Communication. Whiskers communicate a cat’s feelings. Relaxed whiskers mean that a cat is happy and content, while whiskers that are flat against the face mean that kitty feels threatened.
Are there cases where you should be worried about your furry friend’s whiskers falling out? It’s not a cause for concern if your cat loses a whisker every now and then, but excessive shedding warrants a closer look.
If you notice multiple whiskers being shed at the same time along with other issues such as lesions, scabs, hair loss, or flaky skin, then it’s strongly recommended that you take your feline companion to the vet for a checkup.
Reasons for abnormal whisker loss include:
- Stress. Many cats will shed excessively when they are stressed, and you’ll likely notice a change in the shine and texture of your cat’s coat as well. Causes of stress in felines include moving houses, the arrival of a new pet or baby, and a change in your daily routine.
- Allergies. Cats can be allergic to fleas, dust, pollen, and food, among other things. Regardless of allergen, the most common manifestation of hypersensitivity in felines is localized or generalized itching of the skin. A flare-up near the whiskers can cause them to fall out.
- Infections. Skin infections caused by bacteria or fungi can result in whisker loss as well. One possible culprit is ringworm, which isn’t actually a worm but a fungal infection. A cat with ringworm will likely have round patches of hair loss, crusty skin, and broken hair.
- Acne. Acne is not exclusive to human teenagers—our feline family members can get it too. Usually found on the chin and lips, cat acne is caused by too much oil in the hair follicles. The result is itchy bumps and lesions, which may lead a cat to rub their face on furniture.
- Cat fights. If your cat gets into an altercation, either outside or with another feline housemate, then they can lose several whiskers, especially if they sustain wounds to the face. Providing multiple bowls, beds, litter boxes, toys, and other resources is one way to prevent cat fights in your home. If your cat tends to wander outside, consider keeping them indoors.
Just like cutting human hair, cutting cat whiskers isn’t painful. But as mentioned above, whiskers help our furry friends accomplish a lot of things, making them essential to daily feline life.
Trimming whiskers can decrease spatial awareness and cause a cat to feel disoriented and confused; therefore, it’s best to leave them alone. Needless to say, you should never pull or pluck your cat’s whiskers, and always be gentle when petting them near the face.
Whiskers are wonderful tools that enable our feline companions to not only survive but also thrive. Finding a stray whisker is normal; however, if you spot excessive whisker loss, don’t hesitate to schedule a vet appointment so that your cat can return to their usual furbulous self as soon as possible!