What Are Dog Whiskers?
Some pet owners see the whiskers around their dog’s face as unnecessary facial hair that should be trimmed at the groomers, but they have many important functions, so what are whiskers, and why do dogs have whiskers?
A whisker (also known as a vissibrae) is defined as thicker, coarser hair than regular facial hair with deeper roots and follicles, which are full of nerve endings that send sensory information to your dog’s brain.
The placement of whiskers will vary for each dog. However, all dogs will have whiskers located above their eyes, on either side of the muzzle, and sometimes on the upper lip and below the chin.
Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?
Aside from making our dogs look extra adorable by framing their faces, the whiskers also serve an essential function of aiding the vision and mobility of our pets. Dog’s whiskers can be seen as finely tuned navigation and sensory equipment.
While we know dogs to have super senses of hearing and smell, many owners are not aware that their vision is not as great. Dogs are farsighted, which means that they are far better at focusing on things off in the distance, but struggle focusing on up-close objects.
The function of whiskers is to assist the dog in visualizing objects up-close and can be especially useful at night when their vision is further limited.
A large number of nerve endings at the root of the hair mean that they are very sensitive to detecting nearby objects and movement in the environment. They are comparable to antennae on various insects, as they can aid the dog’s vision and therefore improve mobility.
When a dog approaches a nearby object, the air currents that his movements create will bounce off the solid objects and back to the whiskers, which detect these faint vibrations and transmit them to the dog’s nervous system.
Whiskers can detect the movement and placement of objects around the dog and transmit that information to the sensory cells. Other things the whiskers can detect are changes in air currents and the shape, size, and speed of nearby objects. When paired with their limited vision, the two senses give the dog confidence to see everything in their immediate environment.
The whiskers on the dog’s muzzle will generally grow to the length of the dog’s head or body shape, which allows dogs to gauge whether they will be able to pass through or fit in tight spaces.
What Are Dog Whiskers Used For? Surprising Reasons!
Because they can detect and sense moving objects, whiskers are a valuable hunting tool for a dog. When the air around another animal moves and bounces back, the whiskers pick up on the vibrations, and the signal determines how fast it is moving and the shape and size of the prey.
When you combine this with their incredible sense of smell, dogs can swiftly catch their prey, even at night.
If you have a dog that is used for hunting, it is vital that you do not cut their whiskers as it could very negatively impact their ability to hunt. Even if they are not hunting, cutting of their whiskers is like removing one of their most significant senses and can reduce their confidence.
A dog’s body language is vital for communicating their emotions, moods, and fears with us humans and other animals. They can actually use their whiskers to display certain feelings to other animals. For example, they will flare the whiskers and point forwards when they are feeling threatened.
This can prevent the other dog from approaching, and therefore prevent unnecessary conflicts with other dogs.
The whiskers are an incredible additional sense for dogs, which helps to make up for their limited vision. As they detect vibrations in the air, dogs use this in addition to their vision to detect movements and nearby objects in the environment.
This can be especially useful for navigating and finding their way to their food bowl or favorite toy at night.
When touched by even the smallest of particles, the sensitive whisker hairs will respond and cause the dog to react. This can be useful in protecting their sensitive eyes that can be easily damaged by dust, debris, tree branches, etc. The dog will feel the debris or object on the whiskers above their eye and shake it off or move away from the sharp object immediately.
The whiskers also help avoid injuries caused by walking or climbing somewhere that they cannot fit. The whiskers will detect the space in front of them and help them determine if they can fit through it.
What Happens if You Cut Off a Dog’s Whiskers?
It is not recommended to cut off or pluck your dog’s whiskers unless expressly advised by a veterinarian. Some groomers trim the whiskers for aesthetic purposes, which does not hurt the dog, but can affect their senses and spatial awareness, so it is not advised!
When a dog’s whiskers are trimmed, it may feel like they have lost one of their senses. As a result, they may become unbalanced, unsure of themselves, and lose general confidence and agility. This can lead to injuries and anxiety about traveling in unfamiliar terrain.
If the whiskers have been trimmed, try not to panic! They will grow back in time, but remember to ask your groomer for future visits to leave the whiskers and focus on the rest of the coat. The whiskers should never be plucked, as many nerve endings in the base would make this painful for your pet.
To protect the whiskers, remember to pet your dog gently and only gently touch the whiskers and always along the grain. Pulling on the whiskers or brushing them against the grain will be painful for your pet.
If you have children, it might be a good idea to teach them this at an early age to avoid causing injuries to your dog.
The Final Bark
Although they may just seem like facial hair to most owners, the whiskers actually act as an additional sense to help your pet navigate safely and confidently as well as communicating their body language to other dogs.
We know you want your pet to look as handsome and groomed as possible, but even if their whiskers are looking a bit unruly, try to leave them wild and free as they have such an essential function in your pet’s life.