Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
Last night I found my 18-year-old cat, Pinky-Boy in front of our space heater, and his whiskers and “eyebrows” are now severely burnt from standing that close. He’s going blind, so maybe he just didn’t realize where he was. I know the space heater seems like a safety hazard, but we have three other cats, and nothing like this has ever happened before. But yes, the heater is now out of reach from Pinky. Anyways, back to my question: can I cut off the burnt edges of his whiskers? I know that whiskers are very sensitive, but because they are so burnt, could the ends be cut? Thank you so much!
~ Katie and Pinky
Siouxsie: Well, Katie, first of all, we want to reassure you that you’re not a bad caretaker for having a space heater! Most cats never go close enough to a space heater to burn their whiskers.
Thomas: But when Mama had a space heater in her house, I loved to get so close to it that I singed my fur more than once! It was kind of embarrassing, really … but it was just so cold and I wanted to snuggle up next to the heat.
Dahlia: An interesting thing about cats is that we comfortably endure much higher temperatures than humans do. Animal behaviorist Linda Case discovered in her research that while humans are very uncomfortable at temperatures above 112°F (44°C), cats can tolerate (and even enjoy) temperatures as high as 126°F (52°C).
Siouxsie: So that’s one reason why your Pinky is so in love with your heater.
Thomas: As cats get older, much like people, we tend to be less able to control our body temperature. You’ve probably noticed that elderly humans tend to like much warmer environments than their younger counterparts. We feel the same way.
Dahlia: But now, on to your question. We believe you should not trim Pinky’s whiskers, and here’s why.
Siouxsie: Although the whiskers themselves don’t have nerves, the reason our whiskers are so sensitive is because there are lots and lots of extra nerves in the hair follicles that grow our whiskers. It’s those nerves that react when the whiskers are touched.
Thomas: Cats whose whiskers are cut off tend to lose their sense of orientation in space. This would be extremely hard for a blind cat to deal with! Even the singed ends of his whiskers are helping those nerves to relay messages to his brain about his environment.
Dahlia: The ends of the whiskers will probably fall off on their own eventually, but meanwhile, leave them be.
Siouxsie: You can help make your sweet Pinky more comfortable — and less likely to romance your heater — by providing him with a heated cat bed. This will help keep him comfortably warm, and if he’s a bit creaky with arthritis, the heat will be very soothing to those sore joints.
Thomas: There are three common types of heated beds. One has an electric heating pad that releases a steady heat as soon as the cat gets in it. These tend to be the most expensive.
Dahlia: Beds also come with removable microwavable pads filled with buckwheat or other materials. These can retain heat for half an hour to an hour, and are the least expensive.
Siouxsie: Thermal, or self-heating beds, use insulating material to reflect the cat’s body heat back to the cat. They don’t warm up as fast as electric beds, but they are more affordable.
Thomas: If Pinky already has a bed, you can buy a pet bed warmer and insert it under the fabric cover.
Dahlia: So, Katie, we hope we’ve answered your question and given you some options to help keep Pinky nice and toasty without risking nasty injuries.