Why do dogs have whiskers? – the hair raising facts

Why do dogs have whiskers

Most dogs have whiskers. Although depending on the breed they are more noticeable on some dogs than others. If you’ve ever looked at your dog, you would have noticed whiskers sprouting from the muzzle, over the eyes, under the chin and even on the upper lip.

They vary in density and length from dog to dog and always seem to be moving or twitching. But have you ever wondered why do dogs have whiskers?

What are dogs whiskers for?

Although we know the hairs on our dogs face as whiskers, they are much more than that. They are one of the first hairs to develop on puppies and are a unique type of hair.

They are actually called vibrissae and are coarser and longer than your dog’s fur. Not only that the roots of these whiskers are three times as deep as normal hair.

But what makes vibrissae so unique is that the follicles of these hairs are surrounded with nerves that communicate with your dog’s brain.

Making canine whiskers much more like receptors or feelers. Vibrissae are sophisticated, sensitive, multi-functional hairs that enable your dog to navigate its way through the environment.

Are dogs whiskers important?

If you think of vibrissae as being a little like your dog’s GPS system you will get some idea of how important they are.

Our dog’s whiskers act like navigational tools. Picking up subtle vibrations in air currents, including changes in wind direction and speed.

Not only that, but vibrissae help our dogs to ‘see’ objects more clearly by providing information about size, shape, and texture of nearby objects.

In fact, these exceptional whiskers may help with many of our dog’s sensory functions including;

  • Finding and identifying food
  • Protection
  • Mood
  • Navigation

So let’s have a look at all the ways that whiskers are useful to our dogs.

Finding and identifying Food

Have you ever thrown a treat or toy at your dog only for your dog to completely miss it? It’s more common than you think because a dog’s muzzle gets in the way of their line of sight.

The longer the muzzle, the more difficult it is to focus on objects that are close to. It’s thought that whiskers, especially those under the chin help your dog locate and identify the thrown objects on the ground.

Those chin hairs also enable your dog to track objects without damaging the underside of their chin. The minute vibrations picked up by your dog’s whiskers provide invaluable information regarding terrain, obstacles and direction of the object they are looking for.

Protection

The vibrissae above our dog’s eyes help our dogs avoid potentially dangerous objects from getting too near the face.

Acting like an early warning system. The whiskers vibrate when something is too close and trigger a blink reflex to protect your dog’s eyes.

Mood

Although you may not consider your dog’s whiskers when you think about the rest of their body language. Never the less, whiskers are a good indicator of your dog’s emotional state.

When your dog is relaxed, the whiskers are typically close to the face and swept back. When your dog is excited, stressed or feeling threatened, however, the whiskers will move forward and flare out.

Navigation

Perhaps the most significant use of canine whiskers though is that of providing vital information to your dog about their environment.

Not only do vibrissae enable our dogs to detect objects, but they also help our dogs develop spatial awareness.

Whiskers are extremely sensitive. And offer our dogs, whose vision is not their strongest sense, a way of seeing the world more clearly even when there is not much light.

Do dogs use their whiskers

Do dogs whiskers fall out?

Dogs do naturally shed a whisker occasionally. Despite vibrissae being different from your dog’s normal hair. They are still hair and will grow, fall out and be replaced periodically.

Although your dog should never lose them all at once. Vibrissae from the snout, eyebrow, and chin do splinter, break or fall out from the hair follicle.

If you notice just one or two, there’s nothing to worry about. But if your dog suffers a complete loss of whiskers it’s an indicator that something is wrong and a trip to your vet is needed.

In most cases, hair loss is caused by allergies or skin mites. But bacterial infections, immune diseases, and ringworm can also contribute to loss of hair.

Even if your dog does lose its whiskers, don’t worry they should grow back. Depending on whether the hair was lost from the root or was just broken will depend on the time it takes to re-grow.

Can dogs whiskers be cut

Because vibrissae play such an important part in how our dogs see the world it’s not a good idea to trim them.

Despite the advantages that whiskers offer our dogs vibrissae are often regularly trimmed as part of a grooming routine or in preparation for the show ring.

Although cutting a dog’s whiskers is not painful. As the nerve supply is deep within the skin and not in the hair shaft it can cause problems for your dog.

As whiskers are our dog’s sense of touch. Trimming them can lead to a reduction in our dog’s ability to feel their way around their world.

Without their GPS our dogs have to physically touch something to know that it’s there. So removing your dog’s whiskers decreases their spatial awareness.

Can you pluck a dog’s whiskers

Although cutting a dog’s whiskers is not painful, plucking them out is.

Not only is the hair embedded deep within your dog’s skin but the root is surrounded by a rich supply of nerves.

Plucking the hair out from the root will be extremely uncomfortable and stressful for your dog. The best idea for both you and your dog is to learn to love their whiskery face just as it is.

Why do dogs have whiskers?

Whiskers provide our dogs with lots of information about their environment. The roots of the long, course and pliable vibrissae are embedded deep into our dog’s skin and have a rich nerve supply.

As the vibrissae move. Signals are sent from the nerves to the brain giving enabling our dog to ‘see’ what’s around them.

Whiskers allow our dogs to accurately measure distances to determine if they can fit through narrow spaces.

What’s more, as vibrissae detect subtle changes in airflow they prevent our dogs from knocking into furniture or walls which is especially useful in dim light.

Not only that but vibrissae act as an early warning system that something is close to the face and trigger a blink reflex if something is near the eyes.

The whiskers on your dog play a significant role in the quality of their life and how they make sense of it. So if you’ve ever been tempted to give them a trim, think twice.

And if your dog is a regular visitor to groomers just ask for the whiskers to be left well alone and embrace your dog’s wonderful whiskers!

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