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Do cats’ whiskers grow back?

Has your cat lost some whiskers? Is it taking them forever to grow back? You may be wondering if cats’ whiskers even grow back at all.

A cat’s whiskers are hairs, so they do grow back. It takes about 6 weeks to 3 months for a cat to regrow them.  However, damage to the hair follicle or hair follicle tumors can cause permanent whisker loss.

Your cat’s whiskers are important for sensing its surroundings. Losing these essential hairs can be very disorienting. If your cat seems to be taking forever to grow back her whiskers, there may be underlying reasons for her whisker loss. Read on to find out more!

How do cats lose whiskers?

Cats have around 12 whiskers around their lips, 3 above each eye, a few on their chins, and even some along their front legs. These whiskers are made of keratin, a fibrous protein that forms hairs.

The skin inside the hair follicle houses these hairs. Surrounding the hair follicle are sensory cells. These help your cat to feel the world around them.

Many different scenarios can result in the loss of a cat whisker.

It can be disconcerting when you see your cat has lost some whiskers. You may even wonder how they can lose these vital hairs, but do not worry, most of the reasons they fall out are not permanent.

They fall out naturally

Since whiskers are hairs, they can naturally fall out. Cats usually lose a whisker or two at a time and regrow them. This is normal and nothing to worry about. The hair simply dies and needs to be replaced.

It can take anywhere from 3 weeks to 6 months for your cat to regrow a whisker, so if you are worried because your cat hasn’t grown one of its whiskers back, give it some time.

Someone pulls them out

Sometimes a child will pull a cat’s whiskers out. This is usually done out of curiosity (or the child engaging in rough play with the cat). Your cat has pain receptors in the hair follicle, so if someone pulls out the whisker those receptors will activate, causing your cat pain.

Removing a cat whisker suddenly can also be very disorienting to your cat since it is a part of how cats touch their environment. The cat may lash out in response to the pain and strike the child. When this occurs, it is important to instruct the child about being gentler with the cat.

Someone cuts them

Well-meaning owners sometimes think their cat’s whiskers need to be trimmed for one reason or another. Sometimes they see the whiskers hit on objects and assume the cat is bothered by this.

However, cutting whiskers is not the best way to deal with this. Cutting them does not cause pain to the cat, but it can change how your cat feels its surroundings. This can stress your cat, but don’t worry he won’t hold a grudge if you did this mistakenly.

If their whiskers are getting in the way of their food dish or water bowl, change the dish rather than trimming the whiskers.

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However, in certain cases, it may be necessary to trim the whiskers for medical reasons, but this should only be done under a vet’s instruction.

Whisker fatigue

Whiskers are incredibly sensitive, so whisker fatigue occurs when whiskers have been overstimulated and fall out. This often happens when a cat’s dish is too small and her whiskers keep hitting up against it.

The constant pressure of the dish against her whiskers causes the follicle to become damaged, releasing the hair. The constant loss of whiskers due to fatigue can be distressing to your cat. She may begin to avoid her food dish, try to tip it over to eat off the ground, or act hungry but avoid eating.

If this is the case, you can try a shallower food dish to help relieve your cat’s stress and give their whiskers room.

Infections

Cats can get infections in their hair follicles. When this occurs, your cat will have raised, itchy, red, bumps. These bumps can eventually lead to hair loss in that area.

These infections are not common in most cats but can be a secondary illness for cats with FIV or other immunocompromised illnesses.

Another cause of this type of infection is trauma (or injury) to the whisker from a catfight. The whiskers can get infected with staphylococcus bacteria which is painful for your kitty. A staph infection needs to be treated by a vet as soon as possible.

Mange

Mange can cause hair loss in cats, even in the whiskers. It is a skin disease caused by tiny parasites. The disease is not usually common in cats, but when it does occur it causes itching, small bumps, crusting, and red skin.

Mange is contagious, so if one of your cats has it, you need to keep her away from your other cats. There are several medications to treat mange. You need to kill the parasites and their eggs to cure the illness. Sometimes mange can be a stubborn illness because the parasites can be hard to get rid of completely, but it is treatable.

Vasculitis

Vasculitis is a skin disease that attacks the walls of red blood vessels. The attack is caused by an abnormal immune response, which means your cat’s skin overreacts to something it comes into contact with. Some medications can cause vasculitis, but oftentimes, it is something in the environment triggering the cat’s immune system.

Mild cases show up as hair loss, scaling, and scarring. More severe cases cause lesions and bleeding. A vet can prescribe some medications to lessen the immune response. You will also need to remove anything that may be irritating.

Medications

Certain medications can cause cats to lose hair, including their whiskers. Hair loss is usually listed as a side effect, and you can discuss with your vet whether or not your cat should continue this medication once you start seeing the hair loss.

Why aren’t my cat’s whiskers growing back?

Damage to the follicle

Cats can get damage to their hair follicles through trauma from a catfight, getting too close to a candle (or other heat sources), or other injuries.

In this case, your cat may never grow whiskers back in the place of their injury. If this is only one or two whiskers, it will not significantly impact your cat’s lifestyle. However, a cat missing several whiskers for a long time will have to adjust how they interact with its surroundings.

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A cat without whiskers will experience disorientation and confusion. She may also appear clumsy.

Follicle Tumors

Certain cat breeds are more likely to get hair follicle tumors than others. Persians are particularly known for this genetic disorder. Some cats get tumors without having any genetic predisposition for it.

Most follicle tumors are benign, but they do cause hair loss. A vet should always evaluate any tumors you find. Your vet may want to remove the tumor to examine it or for the cat’s well-being. This can cause your cat to no longer grow whiskers in that area.

What do cats use their whiskers for?

Senses

Cats use whiskers as an extra way of sensing their environment.

The cells around the hair follicles give the cat’s brain information about her surroundings. Cats can “feel” things their whiskers come into contact with, and they can use their whiskers to sense things via air currents.

Cats can use their whiskers on command to sense their environment, but some of the information is also involuntary. This extra sense assists cats while hunting small, fast prey at night.

Orientation

Whiskers help a cat land on its feet. Your cat has tiny follicular cells that send information to your cat’s brain about where she is in relation to the ground. So, as gravity pulls on your cat’s whisker hair, she can tell which direction she needs to turn to land on her feet if she falls.

This gives your cat its characteristic trait of “always landing on its feet.”

Measuring spaces

Your cat’s whiskers also allow her to measure spaces. The length of your cat’s whiskers is about the width of your cat’s body, respectively. When she approaches a small opening, your cat will use her whiskers to determine if she can fit through the space. Measuring spaces lets your cat find the best places to hide and give birth.

Expresses emotions

Cats can also use their whiskers to express their emotions.

If your cat’s whiskers are still, she is probably happy and calm. Whiskers that are laying flat against a cat’s face indicate fear. Your cat will move her whiskers forward when a cat feels threatened, excited, or aggressive. Sick cats pull their whiskers back against their face.

If you study your cat’s whiskers, you may be able to determine more about how she’s feeling.

Conclusion

Whiskers are a vital part of your cat’s body. They may seem like simple hairs on the face, feet, and eyes, but they are essential for your cat to orient herself and feel her environment. In most cases, losing a whisker is not an issue. Most cats will lose one or two and grow them back. However, if your cat has not regrown her whisker after 3 months, she may not be able to regrow it. If your cat shows no adverse symptoms, she is probably fine. If you notice any itching or bumps, or your cat acts disoriented, you may wish to speak to your vet.