Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?

Most of us are familiar with a cat’s whiskers, but not as much with the whiskers of a dog. While dog whiskers are not as critical as those of their feline friends (or enemies), they still serve several important functions in your dog’s life. Dogs have several sets of whiskers, and we’ll take a look at each one so you can learn more about your pet and how they navigate the world around them. Keep reading while we discuss the different types of whiskers your dog has, where they are on the body, and how your dog uses them.

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What Are Whiskers?

Whiskers are a distinct type of hair called vibrissae. These vibrissae have special nerves that send messages directly to the brain so your dog can react faster. These whiskers grow out of special nerve pads positioned over the face and are so sensitive they don’t need to come into contact with a surface to know it is there. These sensitive hairs can detect a difference in air currents present near the surface. The ability to detect changing air currents is how sleeping dogs can sometimes sense when you are moving toward them.

Types Of Whiskers

Mystacial Whiskers

The mystacial whiskers are the most prominent whiskers on a dog’s face. These extend outward from the dog’s nose to the left and right sides of the face. These whiskers are helpful to detect objects that are close to the dog’s nose, and they are especially useful when navigating the dinner bowl. Your dog will also use them to navigate tight spaces like holes in the ground or fences.

Genal Whiskers

The genal whiskers are set further back on the face and extend from the cheeks.

close up brown dog whiskers
Image Credit: Doucefleur, Shutterstock

These whiskers alert the dog to objects near the head and help the dog avoid bumping its head. These whiskers also help protect the dog from getting stuck in holes or fencing.

Supraorbital Whiskers

Supraorbital whiskers extend from the head above the eyes. These whiskers protect the eyes and top of the head from incoming objects and alert the dog of potential dangers in tight spaces.

Interraman Tufts

Interraman tufts extend from below the chin. These whiskers vary in size depending on the dog breed, and they are important for supplying your dog with information about what’s below this area. These whiskers are especially important for dogs that go into the water because they inform your dog how close the water is to its mouth.

What’s The Purpose of Whiskers?

Whiskers are extremely sensitive hairs that can inform your dog of nearby objects. These whiskers work to give your dog a better sense of the environment around them. Dogs often move at high speed, and these whiskers are essential to help your dog react accordingly. Whiskers can also help your dog navigate the environment if they begin to lose their sight later in life.

What If The Whiskers Are Cut Off?

Unlike cats, dog whiskers generally grow back quickly and will be back in about 2 weeks, so it’s not a major concern if something happens to them, though you should never intentionally cut a dog’s whiskers.

Your dog may seem disoriented without whiskers, and you might also notice it bumping into objects or walls. There are several nerve bunches at the hair base, so plucking a whisker can be extremely painful for your pet. Plucked whiskers might not grow back, and your pet will permanently lose access to the sense.

Can I Trim Whiskers?

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Image Credit: Wichatsurin, Shutterstock

Whiskers can make a freshly groomed dog look shaggy, and many owners want to neaten them up by cutting or trimming them. However, as we mentioned earlier, you should resist all temptation to cut the whiskers. Some experts say that if you must trim them, remove no more than a quarter-inch so the whiskers can retain their functionality.

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Summary

Whiskers act like another sense that dogs can use to navigate their environment. The nerve pads send messages directly to the brain so your pet can react instantly. Your dog uses these whiskers to sneak under the kitchen table or move through a hole in a fence. They also help your dog swim better and move close to the ground. Many dogs chase game into holes or under thick brush, and the whiskers are important tools to protect the eyes and prevent your dog from getting stuck. They grow back quickly, so you don’t need to worry if a child accidentally cuts them or you need to trim them for a special photo, but it can be disorienting for your pup. You should never pluck the whiskers because it is extremely painful for the dog, and the whisker might not grow back. However, some dogs like it when you gently massage and pull on their whiskers.

We hope you have enjoyed reading over this guide and found it helpful for answering your questions. If we have assisted you in learning more about your dog, please share this guide to why dogs have whiskers on Facebook and Twitter.


Featured Image: Robert Avgustin, Shutterstock