Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?

Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?

All types of animals in the canine family have sharp, short hairs extending out around their nose. Similar to cats, these are dog whiskers that are essential to their physical feature. Unlike human mustaches, these dog whiskers have a special purpose.

But why do dogs have whiskers, and what should you know about them as a dog owner?

What Are Dog Whiskers Called?

Dog whiskers are special hairs that are called vibrissae. They are also known as “feelers,” even though dogs cannot actually feel them. The main purpose of these whiskers is to help dogs get a sense of their surroundings. They develop whiskers during the 5th week of puppies inside their mother’s womb.

The whiskers of a dog vary with size and breed. Most dogs will have a few whiskers above the eyes and rest around their muzzle and chin. The muzzle whiskers have a special term: they are called Mystacials.

These are of different sizes and usually point away from their face. Structurally, the whiskers are stiffer and are limited to the region around their nose. Whiskers on a dog grow from the same hair follicles as their fur. However, these hairs are more tactile and do not serve the purposes of protection from weather and other reasons why dogs have fur.

What Are Dog Whiskers For?

Whiskers are an essential part of a dog’s physical appearance. But why do dogs need whiskers? Why do they have them only around the face? The reason is simple: The whiskers are responsible for sending early warning signals to the dog’s brain.

Dog whiskers have a lot of nerve fibers located at the base of the originating follicles. This makes them extremely sensitive to touch. The main purpose of dog whiskers is to help them understand where they are going or if something is obstructing their path. Here are some more reasons why a dog needs its whiskers.

Sensors

Dogs have a poor sense of sight compared to their hearing and smell. They often have trouble seeing objects that are too close. What whiskers do for dogs is act as a navigation system for where they are going and how they need to walk without bumping into something.

The whiskers are a type of sensory organ of their body. They can use these to understand everything around them. If you gently touch a dog’s vibrissae, they will immediately blink and try to get away from your hand. This shows that they can feel an obstruction with the whiskers.

Communication

Dog whiskers are also essential to how dogs communicate with humans and other dogs. If you notice your dog has its whiskers elevated, it is a sign that they are excited and happy. Most young dogs have elevated whiskers when they are running around and playing.

If a dog is scared or feels a threat, it will put its whiskers down and the vibrissae around its muzzle will be facing forward. This is similar to any other fight or flight response in mammals where they are preparing for any form of threat.

A dog will communicate with other dogs and animals through their whiskers. So reading the whiskers can help understand the emotional situation of a dog. For instance, cats and dogs understand each other through the movement of their whiskers.

Protection

Dog whiskers are one of the most sensitive parts of their body. It responds to the slightest touch. This is why a dog will make use of its whiskers for protection. The whiskers over a dog’s eyes flick away dust particles or rain drops. The ones around its muzzle protect them from bushes, thorns, and other objects that can harm them.

When a dog is indoors, the whiskers will help them go around the furniture instead of bumping into them. Since whiskers have sensory nerves, it helps the dog understand what they need to avoid in their surroundings, protecting them from accidents.

Do All Dogs Have Whiskers?

All types of dogs have whiskers. From hairless breeds like the Chinese Crested Dog and American Hairless Terrier to the hairiest breeds like Huskies and Saint Bernard, all dogs will have whiskers.

A dog’s whiskers will vary in size, shape, and consistency depending upon the breed. A hairless or curly-haired dog such as a Sphinx will have more whiskers around its muzzle. A more common dog like the Labrador will have whiskers evenly distributed around its face.

Can You Remove Your Dog's Whiskers?

Yes, you can remove your dog’s whiskers by trimming them. However, you should not do this. If you are thinking of trimming your dog’s whiskers as part of grooming, take a pause. You are doing more harm than good.

Firstly, plucking out a dog’s whisker will be very painful for them. It is similar to plucking out the hair in humans. Secondly, all dogs need their whiskers to survive in any given environment. Plucking them out would affect their sense of touch, sight, and response to different stimuli.

It can cause disorientation in their daily activities. In some cases, trimming whiskers can even make a dog more aggressive because of the stress it causes them. Trimming a dog’s whiskers is similar to an amputation of a functional organ. It is a banned procedure in many countries since it causes so much pain to the animal.

Dog Whiskers: FAQ

Do dog whiskers fall out?

It is common for a dog’s whiskers to fall out with age and sometimes grow back again. What is important to note is that the process is natural and not due to human interference or diseases. A dog will not lose enough whiskers naturally to feel disoriented.

Do dog whiskers grow back?

Yes, a dog’s whiskers grow back. Since dog whiskers are a part of their hair growth and they grow from follicles, they shed and grow back from time to time. It is a normal process and there is no reason to get worried.

What happens when you touch a dog’s whiskers?

The whiskers of a dog are extremely sensitive to touch. So if you touch or even tap a dog’s whisker, it will either flinch or blink, trying to get away from the touch. Your touch will be perceived as an obstruction and they will try to move farther away from it.

Should you touch your dog’s whiskers?

It is safe for you to gently touch or tap your dog’s whiskers. But it is important to note that it is not causing them any pain. Plucking or twisting a dog’s whisker can be really painful for them and should be avoided at all times.

Are dog and cat whiskers the same?

In terms of physiology, the whiskers of cats and dogs are the same. They are part of the animals’ hair growth with sensory nerves in them. However, there are some differences in terms of the growth and structure of whiskers. Cat whiskers are longer, and they also have them near their forelegs. Dogs do not.

A dog whisker’s purpose is to help dogs sense their surroundings, to protect them from rain drops and dust, and as a means of communication with their human friends and other dogs. As a pet parent, make sure that you are taking care of their whiskers.