Everyone thinks of cats as having whiskers, but dogs actually have them too. You might only see them in the right light, or you might feel them when your dog comes to say hello. Whiskers are actually very important to your dog’s ability to tell where they are at in space, particularly in the dark. These are not the obvious kind of whiskers that cats display, but they do serve a similar function.
If you have ever been tempted to “clean up” your dog’s whiskers or to remove them by trimming them off, you need to know more about what they do for your dog. This is a key part of their ability to tell if they are going to bump into something, and they also serve other purposes. The more that you know about the way that your dog benefits from having whiskers on their face, the less likely you will be to remove them.
What Do Whiskers Do?
Whiskers are part of how your dog can tell where they are at in space, both day and night. These are hairs that are called tactile hairs, which means that they don’t actually feel anything, but they do help your dog to sense air currents, and they help your dog to tell how large the things in front of them might be. Whiskers are more like radar for your dog than they are like other appendages such as a foot or a tail.
Whiskers can sense when the air currents around them bounce off objects. This helps your dog to be sure that they are coming close to something in their way. Many people think that whiskers actually feel the objects near them, but that is not really the case. Even short whiskers can help your dog to sense vibrations in the air around them.
Muzzle Whiskers and Eye Whiskers Have Different Functions
Dogs have whiskers on their muzzle as well as over their eyes. This keeps their eyes out of danger, just like their muzzles. Dogs can pass through brush and narrow spaces without getting injured due in part to their whiskers. While this is not as important for domestic dogs as it is for wild dogs, your dog that lives in your house still benefits from having their whiskers.
The whiskers above a dog’s eyes are called supraciliary or supraorbital. The whiskers on a dog’s cheek are called genal. Muzzle whiskers are present in the greatest number, and they are called mystacial. This word shares a common root with the word mustache for a reason. Some dogs also have clusters of muzzle hairs that grow in tufts from moles on their chins.
Dog Whisker Length
Whisker length is typically linked with the size of the dog, so smaller dogs will have shorter whiskers. However, the length of the whiskers does not impact the number. All dogs have the same kinds of whiskers on their face, even if they are shorter because the dog is little.
What Whiskers Can Say
Whiskers can also convey emotions to other dogs and humans who are paying attention to them. When a dog’s whiskers are lying flat, this means that the dog is relaxed. When a dog is scared or feels threatened, their whiskers can flare and twitch. Muzzle whiskers also disperse pheromones to other dogs as a means of warning and communication. This is how packs of dogs can communicate when there is a threat to the pack.
How Much Do Dogs Rely on Their Whiskers?
Your dog will rely a lot on their whiskers. Their whiskers offer them about 40% of their sensory data. Each whisker leads back to a specific neurological area in the brain. Dogs have the right number of whiskers to tell them where all of the most important and sensitive parts of their body are at in relation to other objects.
The fact that whiskers are such a key part of your dog’s sensory system, you should always be careful about pulling them out, cutting them off, or even petting your dog in such a way that the whiskers are bent back or pulled on. This can actually hurt your dog, and you do not want to cause your dog pain by accident just because you have pulled on their whiskers. Dogs who do not like to have their faces petted might just be responding to the discomfort that has happened when their whiskers have been bent back in the past.
If a dog loses all of their whiskers on one side of their face, they might actually suffer from a lack of balance, or they could be nervous and scared. It can take a few weeks for the whiskers to grow back, during which time your dog will likely be quite unhappy and might even feel unwell. Whiskers are a key part of your dog’s overall well-being, so they should be treated with care in all situations. Most dog groomers are aware of the need to allow your dog to retain their whiskers, but you could run into problems if you are working with an inexperienced groomer who cuts off these important sensory hairs.
Dog Whiskers Are Essential to Your Dog’s Perceptive Abilities
Dogs who have their whiskers intact are able to navigate readily in the dark and also in small spaces. Whiskers are critical for your dog’s balance and sense of space, and they should never be cut or removed. Be careful to pay attention to your dog’s whiskers when petting their face so that you do not accidentally pull on them too hard or disrupt the direction that they are lying in.
Whiskers serve many important functions for dogs and can help to communicate emotions, to tell other dogs to be afraid, and also to navigate tight spaces. Without whiskers, dogs would have a much harder time judging where they are at in relationship to other animals and objects during their daily activities. While many people do not think about dog whiskers as being essential to a dog’s ability to get around, they are a key part of the way that a dog perceives the world around them.
Do you have other questions about your dog’s care? Call your Kryder + Harr Veterinary Clinic team at (574) 277-6533 today!
Welcome to Kryder & Harr Veterinary Clinic! Our animal hospital has been a fixture in the Granger community since 1981, practicing full-service veterinary medicine for all our pet parents and their furry family members. At KHVC, we pride ourselves on our history, of providing excellent customer service for our clients, along with dedicated, compassionate, and exceptional medical care for all of our patients.