What are Dog Whiskers For?
In contrast to the non-functional whiskers that men occasionally develop on their faces, dogs have a set of stiff hairs that stick out from the sides of their muzzles, these are commonly referred to as whiskers. But why do dogs have them?
Whiskers are known as vibrissae in a technical sense. However, feelers would be a better name for them since vibrissae are, in fact, sophisticated tools that aid the dog in navigating its environment.
What are Whiskers?
Although whiskers grow from hair follicles similarly to other hairs, they are very noticeable on a dog’s body. The roots of whiskers are three times deeper than those of normal hair and are coarser and thicker. In contrast to normal hair, whiskers do not completely cover the body. They are thoughtfully placed on the chin, above the upper lip, and above the eyes. Each breed has a unique pattern and placement for their whiskers. Dogs of all ages have whiskers, unlike humans. Whiskers are among the first hairs to develop and are present at birth in newborn pups, so they do not need to reach puberty before beginning to grow.
Because the follicles from which whiskers grow are crammed with blood vessels and nerves, they are more sensitive than normal hair. A dog’s whiskers have the same level of sensitivity as a human’s fingertips. A dog touches the world with his face, whereas humans feel touch with their fingers.
What are the Purposes of Whiskers?
A dog’s whiskers draw attention to his face. When a dog smiles, the whiskers draw attention to the muzzle and frame the eyes, similar to human eyebrows. But whiskers are more than just cosmetic features; they have a crucial role to play. A dog’s whiskers serve as specially tuned sensory equipment to help it navigate its daily activities. Similar to the antenna on insects, these particular hairs enhance vision and help a dog navigate his environment by adding additional sensory input.
Despite being referred to as tactile hairs, whiskers are not tactile. They merely send information to the sensory cells when they notice objects or motion. Dog whiskers transmit data about the size, shape, and speed of nearby objects by detecting minute changes in air currents. Dogs with whiskers can get around more easily.
Whiskers as Radar Sensors
Dogs are renowned for having keen senses of hearing and smell, but their vision could be better. Dogs can focus on objects up close but see better at a distance. Dogs see things right in front of them thanks to the whiskers’ constant communication with the brain. A dog moves air currents that hit solid objects, causing them to bounce back as they come into contact with them. Whiskers function as radar detectors by picking up on extremely faint vibrations brought on by these changes in air currents.
The presence of prey, potential enemies, or the location of his pack can all be detected by a dog in the wild, thanks to his whiskers. In the evenings, domestic dogs’ whiskers aid them in finding their food bowls or preferred toys. Put another way, a dog using whisker radar can aid in nighttime hunting and guard against running into dark obstacles like walls.
A dog’s whiskers in various places provide localized information about its surroundings:
As a dog moves their head back and forth, their mystacial whiskers along the muzzle extend toward an approaching object to assist in determining the shape, proximity, and texture of nearby surfaces. Dogs can measure distances and detect food and water thanks to their whiskers.
Superciliary/supraorbital whiskers react to tactile stimuli or air currents to identify potential threats to the eyes. A dog’s brain receives signals when the whiskers move, causing the blink reflex to cause the eyelids to close.
Genal whiskers aid in the peripheral perception of the environment, assisting with tasks like navigating through confined spaces and maintaining a dog’s head upright while swimming.
A mole under a dog’s chin sprouts interraminal whiskers. Cellular clumps in these moles give the brain information about touch and other senses. They are beneficial for finding food, water, and other items outside the visual range of vision.
Can Whiskers Be Used to Express Emotions?
The dog’s whiskers stop moving when it is sleeping. However, they are equally as active as a dog! A dog’s whiskers will rise above his eyes when he is excited or curious, giving him the adorable, wide-eyed appearance his owner loves. A dog will raise his whiskers and point them in the direction of the threat if he feels threatened.
Do Whiskers Provide Protection?
Even the smallest particles trigger a response from these delicate hairs. A dog will blink or shake his head and fling a speck of dust that lands on a whisker above his eye. The eye, which even a tiny dust particle can harm, is shielded by this reaction. When a dog is walking outside, if its whiskers come in contact with a thorny bush or a blade of tall grass, they cause the dog to back up to prevent getting scratched or poked in the eye.
In addition, dogs’ whiskers keep them out of traffic. Dogs can use their whiskers to check whether they can fit through a gap without getting stuck or knocking over any furniture as they approach a small opening in a fence, a narrow space between rocks, or a small area between living room chairs. Through a variety of means, this keeps the dog out of trouble!
Whiskers Must Be Protected
Processing information from touch sensors takes up a sizable portion of a dog’s brain. Whiskers are incredibly accurate touch sensors. Nearly 40% of the brain’s sensory region corresponds to regions with whiskers on the body. Since each whisker can be linked to a specific location in the brain, whiskers take up valuable space in a dog’s nervous system.
For a dog to function safely inside and outside of his home, whiskers are essential. Whiskers serve to protect dogs. Pet your dog’s whiskers gently and in the direction of their growth. Avoid pulling or plucking your dog’s whiskers, as this will cause pain. Cut the whiskers sparingly when grooming your dog to prevent confusion and reduce his sense of special awareness.
Do All Dogs Have Whiskers?
Yes, even traditionally hairless breeds of dogs have whiskers, though breeds may differ in length and number of whiskers. Although the whiskers on breeds with curly coats may grow curled rather than straight, they still play a crucial role in sensory perception.
Additionally, the two main roles of a dog’s whiskers are communicating emotions and assisting dogs in understanding and sensing their environment.
What is the Difference Between Dog Whiskers and Cat Whiskers?
Dog and cat whiskers both serve a purpose. To help with balance and jumping ability, the ability to detect food or prey and the ability to navigate in low light conditions, cat whiskers will typically grow to be as long as cats are wide.
In contrast to hairless cats or cats with curly coats, which may have fewer whiskers or whiskers that are curled rather than straight, larger, longer-haired cats typically have longer whiskers. Dogs lack the cluster of whiskers found on the back of each fore leg that cats do.
Should You Cut Your Dog’s Whiskers?
You shouldn’t trim your dog’s whiskers, to be honest. It may affect your dog’s balance, movement, and capacity to detect environmental cues if you shorten or remove their whiskers because they are essential for normal sensory perception and balance.
Any method of shaving whiskers may cause a dog significant stress. Their sensory function is impacted, which may lead to temporary disruptions in routine activities like playing, swimming, and hunting. Some dogs may become aggressive as a stress response after getting their whiskers cut.
It may take several weeks for your dog’s whiskers to regrow to their mature length; during that time, their ability to sense things may be absent or impaired.
In several European nations, trimming or plucking whiskers has been outlawed because it is viewed from the perspective of animal welfare as an amputation of a functional sensory organ rather than a cosmetic improvement. Intense pain and potential bleeding can result from whisker removal.
It won’t hurt, and the whiskers on your dog will grow back if you accidentally clip them. Trimming your dog’s fur anywhere near their whiskers should only be done with extreme caution.
Do Your Dog’s Whiskers Fall Out?
Yes, a dog’s whiskers shed just like its other body hair. A new whisker may take several weeks to reach its full length. Broken, brittle whiskers may indicate advancing age, inadequate dietary intake, or other underlying health issues like mange, stress, hormonal imbalance, skin infections such as ringworm, etc.
Dogs with alopecia areata experience hair and whisker loss from their face, head, or ears. In more serious, generalized cases, dogs can also experience hair loss on their legs and trunk. In less severe cases, alopecia areata may go away on its own, but in more severe cases, it may need to be treated with medications like cyclosporine.
How to Take Care of Dog Whiskers
Dog whiskers are easy to care for. Dog Experts recommend simply leaving them alone.
If they’re muddy, gently wipe your dog’s face with a damp cloth, followed by a dry one. You can also use a dog-friendly shampoo on your dog’s head and muzzle, but keep the ears and eyes out of the way.
Dog Experts recommends spraying waterless shampoo on a paper towel if you’re hiking and need to clean your dog’s whiskers quickly.
Experts generally agree that there is no medical justification for shaving your dog’s whiskers. Even if you do so for aesthetic reasons, keep in mind that shaving can impair their functionality. Therefore, let your groomer know you don’t want the whiskers cut.