Have you come across one of your cat’s whiskers caught in some of your clothing or just discarded on the floor? Or have you spotted that your cat has fewer whiskers than normal? You might have not come across this before and be wondering “do cats lose their whiskers? Is it normal and why do they lose their whiskers?” You might have got in a bit of a panic and be thinking the worst!
We will take you through what is going on, what is normal and what is not normal and what needs sorting out! Read on so you know what to look out for.
What Are Whiskers?
Whiskers are nothing but very specialized hairs. They are made of the same material as normal hair found in cats’ fur. They are simply thicker and longer than normal hairs. They do not have an internal blood or nerve supply. They are just ultra-thick hairs…
Whiskers can usually be found on the cat’s face around the cat’s nose, above the eyes, along the jawline, and on the back of the ankles on the front legs of a cat. The whiskers around the nose tend to be the longest. The whiskers above the eyes and to the backs of the legs tend to be shorter but still distinctly longer and thicker than standard hairs.
All cats usually have twelve or more whiskers on each side of the muzzle. The length usually corresponds to the width and size of the cat – the bigger the cat, the longer the whiskers!
What makes these specialized hairs so special is that the follicles that sprout these hairs are usually more heavily laden with nerve endings than other hair follicles. These extrasensory hair follicles teamed with the specialized hairs that sprout from them make whiskers very special tools for cats.
What Are They Used For?
A cat’s whiskers are not for decoration or to look good. Neither are they a display tool for attracting mates. A cat’s whiskers are actually a sensory tool akin to the eyes, nose, ears, or paws.
Whereas eyes can see, noses can smell, ears can hear and paws can touch, whiskers are used for sensing their surroundings at night, and understanding other environmental stimuli.
Whiskers can help a cat judge proximity to objects, judge the size of openings at close distance that they may need to pass through or near, help them sense disturbances in the air around them, sense wind speed and direction, and can even be used as a form of visual communication. Did you know that a cat with its face whiskers flattened back is in a bad mood and probably shouldn’t be handled?
We, as humans simply have nothing that compares to whiskers, although some of the tasks whiskers fulfill are not necessary for humans. Cats near sight is pretty poor compared to ours and their whiskers address this weakness by aiding them in judging gaps and helping them judge objects that are close to their person but that their eyes are unable to focus sharply on.
Although cats’ eyes are far better at seeing objects in low light compared to humans’ eyesight, whiskers offer another layer of detection in low light that we simply don’t have.
Whiskers found on the legs of the cat can help when climbing or when grappling with prey. The whiskers on the legs almost act as another set of eyes in these scenarios and are particularly useful at night in these scenarios.
There is some conjecture that cats use whiskers for balance. Scientific thinking on this topic is that cats are mammals, and like all other mammals balance is coordinated by the workings of the inner ear – whiskers play no role in balance…
Is It Normal For Them To Fall Out?
Do cats lose their whiskers? Sure they do, it is perfectly normal for the odd whisker to fall out from time to time. Whiskers, like normal hairs, have a shelf life. The older the individual hair gets the more brittle and prone to breaking it becomes. So it is with whiskers – they get thin and snap with use and from general everyday wear and tear.
The cat is evolved to replace these aging whiskers so they always have a decent set in place and are never without! A worn-out or aging whisker drops out, a fresh whisker emerges as a replacement!
You might think that aging cats might have fewer whiskers, after all, if we lose hair with age it might stand to reason that a cat would lose its whiskers with age too? This does not happen. Cats of any age should have a decent sized set of whiskers. Age does affect whiskers though. Older cats will have thinner whiskers and they will often be of a lighter color than in their younger days – a bit like aging people getting grey hair!
If you notice a whisker on the floor or spot that your cat seems to be missing a couple of whiskers this is nothing to worry about.
If your cat has lost half their whiskers then this is problematic and should be investigated. If your cat seems to be losing whiskers on a daily basis without fresh whiskers emerging then this is an issue. A cat without whiskers is a cat that will have problems getting by in their environment and will be severely disadvantaged.
What Might Cause Abnormal Whisker Loss?
Have you noticed that your cat is losing whiskers quicker than normal? Do you suspect that something unusual is going on? We all know that losing the odd whisker is normal but losing numerous at a time or losing more than usual can sound off alarm bells. There can be numerous causes of abnormal whisker loss. Why do cats lose their whiskers all in one go or faster than usual sometimes? Check out some of these common causes:
Stress can cause all sorts of weird reactions in cats. They can go off their food, become clingy, start peeing in odd places and even start losing their fur – and their whiskers! Has your cat become stressed?
Picking out the reason why your cat might be stressed can be difficult – changes in their immediate environment or daily schedule can create stress. Competition or fights with other cats can lead to stress that can lead to whisker loss. Sometimes the smallest of factors can be enough to stress your cat.
Fungal/Bacterial Infection And Parasites
Cats can suffer from fungal and bacterial infections. Ringworm is a fairly common fungal infection in cats. If this infection is located near areas where whiskers grow it can be a cause of whisker loss.
These types of infections usually need veterinary attention but can often be resolved with medications, creams or other antifungals.
Parasites such as fleas and ticks might also cause whisker loss from reactions to bites or from overgrooming in the areas where bites have occurred. These parasites can usually be cleared up with over the counter medications and treatments.
Your cat could be suffering from feline acne. This usually occurs under the chin in cats but can affect other parts of the face. Feline acne can often lead to fur loss but if it is located or spread towards areas where whiskers grow it can impact the whiskers. And lead to loss.
Treatment can be relatively straightforward but will involve the vet. You can help your cat avoid feline acne by only feeding and watering them from ceramic or stainless steel food and water bowls – avoid plastic!
Cats can suffer from dermatitis like us. Feline dermatitis is usually an allergic reaction to either fleas, sensitivities to food, or environmental allergens like pollen, mold, or grass. Dermatitis can affect any area of the cat’s skin and so could affect the whiskers if the allergic reaction occurs in this area.
You would expect to spot your cat scratching or overgrooming initially before the full extent of the issue was revealed. Treatment usually starts with flea treatment, then moves onto dietary changes followed by medication if the initial approaches do not work out.
Hormonal Disorders/Nutrient Deficiencies
Hormonal problems and nutrient deficiencies can contribute to alopecia – hair loss. If your cat suddenly suffers from abnormal whisker loss and other hair loss they could be suffering from alopecia brought on by hormonal or dietary issues.
This will warrant a visit to the vet for further investigation. Older cats often suffer from hypothyroidism that can result in alopecia and nutrient deficiencies. Treatments in the form of medication are available and may alleviate these conditions.
When Should You Be Concerned?
Do cats lose their whiskers? Yes, losing the odd whisker from wear and tear is no big deal. Losing a few whiskers in a bit of a fight, again, is something your cat will get over.
When you notice abnormal whisker loss – more than usual, at greater speed, whisker loss accompanied by other hair loss, out of the ordinary whisker losses – you should have a vet check your cat out. Often the issue is something that can be sorted inexpensively but won’t necessarily fix itself of its own accord – and your cat needs those whiskers!