Whisker stress (also called whisker fatigue) is a hypothesized phenomenon whereby cats are reluctant to eat from food bowls with high walls that impede on their whiskers. It has been theorized that contact of the bowl with whiskers results in hesitant eating, slower intake, and dropping of food. This has resulted in the marketing of bowls and other feeding containers designed to minimize whisker stress and allow cats to eat more easily. However, this phenomenon has never been described in the scientific literature. The purpose of this study was to determine if whisker stress is an issue in domestic cats, and to describe its occurrence.
Healthy, indoor cats 1-12 years of age that ate dry food out of a dish were recruited to the study. Cats had pictures of the face taken, and eyebrow and muzzle whisker lengths were measured. Owners also brought in the cat’s normal bowl, and measurements were taken. Cats were provided with a bowl made of the same material (metal or ceramic) marketed as “whisker friendly”.
Owners were directed to fast cats for 12 hours and then feed the usual premeasured amount of food while videotaping the cats eat out of their normal bowl. A week later this was repeated with the whisker friendly dish. The following day, cats were offered food in both dishes, side by side, and their preference recorded.
Forty cats were enrolled into the study, of which 38 completed it. Fifteen cats were spayed females and 23 neutered males. Nineteen cats used ceramic and 19 stainless steel dishes. All of the “normal” dishes were smaller and deeper than the “whisker friendly”.
There was no difference in time spent feeding, amount of food dropped, or amount of food eaten between the two types of bowl. According to owner reports, 63% of cats preferred the whisker friendly dish, 24% the regular dish, and the remainder had no preference.
Several limitations to this study were present. These included the inability to blind owners or cats as to the choice of bowl, the relatively small number of cats enrolled, and the small time frame cats were observed over. Further factors inducing canned food, different consistencies and volumes of food, and multiple meals should be investigated.
The authors conclude that there was no effect of the whisker friendly dish on eating habits of cats. More cats preferred the whisker-friendly dish to the regular dish, however the amount of time spent eating, amount eaten, and amount of food dropped were not different. (MRK)