Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers? Do They Need Them? Can You Cut Or Trim Them?

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A small dog with long black whiskers.

Have you ever taken your dog to the groomer and noticed that his whiskers were gone after the service? Your dog probably feels a bit disoriented afterward. A dog’s whiskers are more important than the hair that humans grow on their faces. Whiskers help your pup navigate the world and play a role in how he expresses emotions. Read on to learn what dog whiskers are for and what happens if they’re gone.

Do All Dogs Have Whiskers?

Yes, all dogs have whiskers. In fact, most mammals have whiskers, except for humans. Well, humans do have whiskers, but they aren’t the same type that other mammals have. The technical term for whiskers is vibrissa1, and they are more important than the hair that humans grow on our faces. These are tactile hairs and are highly sensitive. Tactile hairs help animals sense the world around them.

Whiskers work as sensory perception tools, as well as help your pup keep his balance.

Do Whiskers Only Grow On My Dog’s Snout?

You might be surprised to learn that whiskers grow on other parts of dogs’ faces and bodies, including their chin and eyes. The whiskers above the eyes help protect foreign objects from getting into their eyes.

4 Types Of Whiskers Dogs Have

  1. Genal whiskers: Genal whiskers are check whiskers and help with peripheral vision.
  2. Interramal tufts: These whiskers sit below your dog’s chin.
  3. Mystacial whiskers: This whisker type is located on a dog’s upper lip.
  4. Supraorbital whiskers: These are the whiskers that sit above your pup’s eyebrows.

Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?

Dog whiskers are very similar to the whiskers found on cats, rats, bears, and seals. Whiskers help your dog feel his way throughout the world.

Whiskers are also pivotal in how dogs express emotion. A relaxed dog’s whiskers will lay flat on his face, while an agitated dog may have his whiskers flared.

Whisker Anatomy

Whiskers are sophisticated hairs that are different from the hairs elsewhere on a dog’s body because each whisker’s base has a high concentration of touch-sensitive neurons. When the whiskers are touched, it sends a signal to the neurons that serve as a warning device that something is near the dog’s face. This signal helps keep a dog from running into objects and walls. 

Whiskers reach deep into the outer layer of skin, the epidermis. The ends of these vibrissae hairs work with the nerves to send information to your dog’s brain.

In the wild, animals use their whiskers to help them hunt and survive. Domestic dogs use their whiskers to find their way around in the dark, sense objects and strangers, and protect themselves from hazards like thorns, bugs, and sticks. Essentially, dog whiskers are touch sensors that send signals to a dog’s brain. Cat whiskers work exactly the same way.

Researchers at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute recently looked at the whiskers of rats to learn more about how the brain identifies objects through touch. This research has the potential to help in the development of prosthetic limbs as well as in understanding conditions like autism.

Can You Cut Dog Whiskers?

Technically, you can trim a dog’s whiskers because scissors can slice through them easily, but you SHOULD NOT cut your dog’s whiskers off. Some groomers and pet owners are unaware of the importance of whiskers and cut them off for aesthetic reasons. Show dog owners often have their whiskers removed to give the head a “cleaner” look. However, do not do this. Learn more about how to groom a dog properly.

What Happens if You Cut a Dog’s Whiskers?

Pet owners often wonder if it is bad to cut a dog’s whiskers, and the answer is yes, it is bad. If your dog’s whiskers get cut off, it can interfere with his ability to navigate his surroundings. Your dog may run into more items and possibly be more susceptible to injury. The removal of a dog’s whiskers can be uncomfortable and stressful for your dog.

Do Dog Whiskers Grow Back?

Yes, dog whiskers can grow back if they are cut or if they fall out. The hair growth rate varies, and there is no exact timeline.

Don’t Pull Out Your Dog’s Whiskers

Do not pull a dog’s whiskers out. Pulling whiskers out can cause pain to the many nerve endings contained at the base. Some dogs may like having their whiskers tugged on a little, like a massage. Why are whiskers so much harder and more rigid than other hairs? AnimalWised talks about the whiskers of dogs and explains their various useful functions in this video.

Do Dogs Have Eyebrows Too?

Yes, dogs do have eyebrows. However, some dogs’ eyebrows stand out more than others because they are bushier or a different color from the surrounding fur on their faces. Learn more fun facts about dogs: do dogs have belly buttons? and why do dogs’ noses get wet?

Has your dog ever been disoriented due to missing whiskers? Share your whisker stories with us in the comments below.

Sources: [1] Merriam-Webster

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