Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers? | Pupford
January 11th, 2023
Filed under Health + Wellness
Dogs are magnificent animals who experience the world in wonderful ways. It’s part of why we love them so much. Each one has their own perspective on the world and whiskers are a big part of how they take it all in and navigate through it.
Whiskers, otherwise known as vibrissae, serve a specific function in a dog’s sensory perception. They work like radar sensors for dogs, transmitting information to sensory cells when there is something that they detect.
In addition to sensory perception, whiskers also serve emotional communication purposes. They rise and relax in harmony with how your pup is feeling. For example, when a dog is excited their whiskers will stick up and when a dog is resting, they lower.
Let's dive into all things dog whiskers. 👇
Related: Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?
TYPES OF WHISKERS ON A DOG
A dog's whiskers’ purpose is all about helping a dog safely navigate through environments. Puppies are born with whiskers and they are among the first types of hair that begin to grow.
Dogs have whiskers in a few common spots on their face and veterinarians classify them by where they are located. Here are the different types of whiskers dogs have:
- Mystacial Vibrissae - The most commonly known whiskers that are just below the dog’s nose on both the left and the right side.
- Chin Vibrissae - The whiskers below the chin, closest to the dog’s mouth.
- Mandibular Vibrissae - The whiskers on the dog’s lower jaw.
- Zygomatic Vibrissae - The whiskers on the dog’s cheeks.
- Superciliary Vibrissae - The whiskers above the dog’s eyes.
Dog’s whiskers don’t have feelings themselves, but they transmit anything they pick up (like an antenna) to sensory cells.
They are deep-rooted. So, if you cut them a dog would feel no pain, similar to clipping your fingernails. If you were to pluck them, though, they would feel a lot of pain.
You should never pluck a dog’s whiskers, and cutting them is usually unnecessary and has the potential to cause issues with their spatial awareness.
PURPOSE OF DOG WHISKERS: SENSORY PERCEPTION
As mentioned above, whiskers are great for a dog’s spatial awareness.
Dogs have the senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, just like humans do, but whiskers are just another sensor for them to feel the world around them.
Veterinarians sometimes call them “feelers”.
With the slightest pressure on the whisker, a message is sent to the brain of the dog and triggers a responsive action, such as a blink reflex. Here’s what each type of dog whisker does:
- Mystacial Vibrissae - These whiskers below the dog’s nose identify nearby surfaces. They are also used to detect their food and other nearby stimulants.
- Chin Vibrissae & Mandibular Vibrissae - The whiskers on the chin and jaw help dogs see blind spots. They are underneath the snout, so they help dogs protect their jaws and move more nimbly.
- Zygomatic Vibrissae - These whiskers on the cheek help pups make their way through tight spaces and keep their head above water while swimming.
- Superciliary Vibrissae - These whiskers protect a dog's eyes. They send messages to the eyes telling them to blink when an external force like wind currents stimulate these whiskers. They can avoid potential threats to their vision with this blink reflex.
PURPOSE OF DOG WHISKERS: EMOTIONAL RESPONSE
Another purpose of a dog’s whiskers has to do with communication.
You may have noticed that sometimes when your dog is barking or startled by something, the hair on the back of their neck and shoulders will flare up. This is the same thing that happens with whiskers, and they can correspond to many feelings. Here is how your dog's whiskers might react depending on their emotional response:
- Dogs who are scared or feel threatened often have flared whiskers.
- Sleeping dogs often have whiskers that lay flat.
- Dogs that are sniffing their surroundings with curiosity will have whiskers protruding out toward the source of the smell.
These are all small indicators of how your dog is feeling or what they are doing.
Of course, they have more effective and primary ways of communicating, like barking or nuzzling, but whiskers are often acting in unison with how a dog feels.
FAQS ABOUT DOG WHISKERS
While we discussed the most common purpose of whiskers, let's cover some other common questions below. ⤵️
SHOULD YOU CUT YOUR DOG’S WHISKERS?
The simple answer, no we don’t recommend cutting your dog's whiskers!
We know that dogs use whiskers for the purpose of sensory perception and communicating their emotional response so trimming them could affect how they interact with their surroundings.
While cutting whiskers is not painful, we see no reason to take away one of their key awareness tools for aesthetics.
WHY DO DOG WHISKERS FALL OUT? DO WHISKERS GROW BACK?
Dog shedding whiskers are as common as humans shedding skin. We are constantly shedding and so are our dogs.
Dog whiskers will naturally break, splinter, or fall out, and generally it’s not something to worry about as they will grow back (as long as they are not pulled out, plucked, or ripped). They also will still be able to function normally when they shed whiskers naturally.
WHEN SHOULD YOU BE CONCERNED?
If your dog suddenly starts shedding whiskers faster than they can replace them, it can be cause for concern. They could become confused, and disoriented, and it could signify an underlying health problem. If you notice your dog’s whiskers falling out at an alarming rate, contact your veterinarian immediately.
RECAP OF WHY DOGS HAVE WHISKERS
Doggies are fascinating animals that have amazing capabilities many aren’t even aware of, and whiskers are one! Dog whiskers help them to communicate, perceive the world around them, and even protect their eyes.
Learn more about how to best understand and connect with your dog by reading the following articles: communicate with body language or learn by association through classical conditioning. There is a lot to learn about our four-legged friends that could enrich your relationship with your dog!