Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?

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Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?

This is one of the common questions among dog parents that why do dogs have whiskers?

Dogs have a set of stiff hairs protruding from the sides of their muzzles that are popularly called “whiskers.” 

To be accurate, “whiskers are specialized hairs that are tied to sensory nerves around a dog’s face.”

Many people don’t realize that the coarse, long whiskers on a dog’s face actually serve an important purpose.

In fact, some pet owners try and snip off dog whiskers because they think they look untidy.

Different from ordinary hair, the hair follicle at the base of whiskers is equipped with nerves that send sensory messages to a dog’s brain.

So whiskers are very sensitive to everything from physical objects to shifting air currents. 

Dog with whiskers come into contact with something, the nerves send signals to the dog’s brain, allowing the dog to evaluate what’s close by.

This is a particularly important function for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, dogs’ vision is not as strong a sense as vision is in humans—their sense of smell is much more adroit—especially when it comes to close-up vision.

Dog Whiskers:

Dog Whiskers

Canine vision is not so wonderful but dogs are known for their great senses of smell and hearing.

Whiskers help them “see” things that lie right under their noses by constantly sending information to the canine brain.

Besides the tactical advantages of whiskers, these special facial hairs can also relay messages about how a dog is feeling.

When a dog is threatened, it will often reflexively flare its whiskers and then point them in a forward direction. 

Despite the apparent advantages of having whiskers, some stubborn pet owners — particularly those who “show” their dogs — opt to pluck, trim or surgically remove these vital sensory tools.

Dog’s whiskers are the first to develop and they help your dog safely find their way around extremely early on.

Whiskers Communicate Emotions:

Whiskers Communicate Emotions

Whiskers can be used in dog communication.

A threatened dog may flare its whiskers and point them forward as a show of aggression.

When a dog rests, the whiskers take a break.

But when a dog is active, so are they!

A happy or curious dog tends to elevate the whiskers above his eyes giving him that cute, wide-eyed look we love.

What Do Whiskers Do For Dogs?

Although whiskers are called “tactile hairs,” they don’t actually feel sensations.

The fact that at the base of each vibrissa is a high concentration of touch-sensitive neurons so that the slightest pressure on that stiff hair will produce a neural response.

What is the purpose of dog whiskers besides helping dogs feel things around them?

Well, that is the primary purpose.

What are whiskers for on dog and how do whiskers work” involves how the dog is feeling, and how they show it.

“Dogs also appear to use them to convey their state of mind.” 

When dogs are alert and engaged with their surroundings, their whiskers tend to be upright, while the whiskers on a reserved or timid dog often will be held close to the face.” 

A dog that feels threatened may “flare” its whiskers and then point them forward as an instinctual defensive reaction.

Some breeds of dogs have also been known to use their whiskers in the same way that many smaller mammals do, to determine whether they can fit through small spaces.

Highly tactful to subtle changes in air currents, canine whiskers serve as receptors for important information about the size, shape, and speed of nearby objects. 

Dogs with reduced vision depend even more on the sensations from their vibrissae to help avoid bumping into things.

Vibrissae:

Vibrissae

Vibrissae are part of the variety of other animals including cats, rats, bears, and seals, which suggests that they must serve a useful function. 

A large portion of the dog’s brain is responsible for processing data from touch sensors.

Whiskers are very reliable touch sensors so almost 40% of the brain’s sensory area aligns with body parts that have whiskers.

It also seems to be involved in the location of objects, and perhaps in the recognition of the objects themselves. 

Since the dog’s eyes can’t really focus on close objects, and his muzzle blocks his line of sight when he is looking at things close to his mouth, the information from the downward and forward pointed vibrissae appears to help him locate, identify, and pick up small objects with his mouth.

Each individual dogs’ whisker can be traced back to a specific spot in the brain which means that whiskers occupy valuable neurological real estate in a dog’s body.

Do Dogs Need Their Whiskers?

Do Dogs Need Their Whiskers

Do dogs need whiskers the same way as cats do?

Yes, they are very similar to the whiskers found on cats, rats, bears, and seals.

Whiskers help a dog feel its way throughout the world. 

This helps keep the dog from running into objects and walls.

Do All Dogs Have Whiskers?

Are there no dogs without whiskers?

No, all dog breeds have whiskers. 

In fact, most mammals have whiskers except for humans.

Well, humans also have whiskers, but they aren’t the same kind that other mammals have.

Can You Cut Dog Whiskers?

Can You Cut Dog Whiskers

Dogs of many different breeds routinely have their vibrissae cut in preparation for the show ring so to attain “a cleaner” outline of the jaw.

Unfortunately, amputating vibrissae is both uncomfortable and stressful for dogs.

Pros:

  • Trimming whiskers of dogs is usually a purely cosmetic procedure, but sometimes it’s medically necessary.
  • Trimming may also be necessary in the case of extremely long whiskers that curl into your buddy’s eye, a quick, slight trim should resolve the issue.

Cons:

  • When you trim or completely remove a dog’s whiskers, you’re compromising his ability to “feel” around his face and even move about confidently. 
  • Trimming whiskers won’t hurt the dog since whiskers don’t contain pain receptors, nor is it permanent because whiskers will grow back.

Altering your buddy’s sensory perception can alter your dog’s spatial awareness, which can lead the dog to become confused and disoriented.

  • It’s especially important to leave whiskers intact if your buddy has poor vision.
  • Some dog groomers snip off vibrissae for aesthetic purposes, but cutting whiskers is not a good idea.

Dog whiskers cut should not be considered as a part of your pets’ grooming session.

Do Dog Whiskers Grow Back?

You may be wondering, do dog whiskers fall out?

Yes, and it’s normal!

It takes a dog’s whiskers a couple of days to grow back.

In the same way that a dog molts hair, they lose whiskers. 

However, if you notice that your dog’s whiskers falling out are accompanied by symptoms such as loss of appetite or any change in behavior, you should consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Make sure the groomer knows not to cut whiskers, you should also never pluck a dog’s whiskers as they have a lot of nerve endings at the base, which will make it painful.

So “I’d prefer if you didn’t cut my whiskers” is definitely one of the things your dog wishes he or she could tell you.

Dog Whiskers Under Chin?

You’ve probably noticed the little long hairs that look like eyebrows and the random long hairs that stick out of his muzzle. 

What about under his chin?

Have you ever noticed the sporadic long and prickly whiskers there?

These are known as mystacial whiskers as they appear where a mustache would be.

However, dogs also have those growing on the top of the eyes (superciliary), by the cheeks (genal), and under the chin. 

The whiskers under the chin are known as the interramal tuft, and typically a couple of these hairs sprout from a little spot of dark skin.

Dogs have blind spots under their chins.

They also turn helpful to dogs who have a passion for digging tunnels or going on sniffing adventures with their noses close to the ground.

Dog Lump Under Chin Whiskers:

All dogs have a little lump right in the middle of their chin where the whiskers come out.

It’s perfectly normal.

Dog Whisker Moles:

Dog Whisker Moles

Moles are common among dogs, especially on dogs with darker pigment in their skin.

Moles are scientifically called sebaceous adenomas.

They can appear anywhere on the body, but they differ from skin tags in structure and texture. Skin tags tend to be small and floppy, moles are flatter and harder instead.

Exposure to the sun can make your dog highly prone to moles.

They are slow-growing and are usually benign. 

Ingrown Dog Whisker:

A pre-existing case of pyoderma also causes ingrown hair by causing tissue changes that trap the hair.

The infection could result from tissue irritation and bacteria introduced by the trapped hair.

  • Inflamedbumps on the skin.
  • Dogs may start to itch and scratch as the follicle irritates the skin.
  • Infected hair follicles sometimes form pus cysts.

Dogs, in particular, are prone to hair follicle problems and infections because they have a relatively thick hair coat covering most of the body.

You might be wondering how to remove ingrown whiskers?

Here’s how you can minimize it.

You can’t prevent ingrown hair completely, but you can help minimize your dog’s risk of suffering from a significant infection due to ingrown hair.

Brush your dog daily and take him to the groomer on a regular basis.

Dog Whisker Pimple :

Dog Whisker Pimple

Acne is also another fairly common problem that can be confused with ingrown hair in dogs.

This inflammatory skin condition appears on the muzzle, lips, and chins in puppies.

Dog whiskers bumps in dogs can look similar to ingrown hair bumps.

Your veterinarian will help you distinguish if your pet is suffering from a grooming problem or acne.

Dog Whisker Infection:

  • Similar to all hair follicles, chin whiskers are subject to disease.

Pyoderma is a disorder where a bacterial skin infection causes cuts filled with pus. 

  • Demodex mites can burrow into the hair follicle causing pus-filled sacs and loss of whiskers in a demodectic mange disease.
  • Plucking chin whiskers can cause infection due to exposed nerve mound. 
  • Hair follicle dysplasia occurs when the chin whisker grows abnormally or in the wrong place. 
  • In case your dog exhibits any of these symptoms, take him to the veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.

What Are Dog Whiskers For?

Navigation:

Whiskers actually help dogs navigate around their surroundings.

They are sensitive to the vibrations in air currents.

As such, when the air moves, whiskers vibrate and help dogs determine the presence of objects near them, as well as the size and shape of those objects, and keep dogs from colliding into them.

Protection:

The whiskers located above a dog’s eyes to protect the eyes, much like your eyelashes protect your eyes.

Because whiskers vibrate when an object is very near a dog, they help him avoid approaching objects that might hurt his face and eyes.

There are some scientists who believe this behavior indicates that whiskers play some part in a canine’s defense strategy during combative situations with predators and other dogs.

Like Antennae or Canes:

Whiskers function much as antennae do in insects.

It helps dogs to get a sense of their surroundings, particularly in the dark.

These are especially helpful to dogs who have vision impairment.

Reflexes:

When you gently touch a dog’s whiskers, they are really delicate and it’s been said that they’re as sensitive to touch as human fingertips! 

The dog’s eye on the same side of the whiskers you’ve touched will blink reflexively, that is why if you’ve ever touched your dog’s whiskers they may blink or flinch in response.

Good Vibrations:

Whiskers are thicker than ordinary hair, and their roots are set three times deeper.

The reason they vibrate and are so sensitive to touch is that whiskers are rooted in hair follicles that are filled with blood vessels and nerves.

Dog Breeds With Long Whiskers:

Dog Breeds With Long Whiskers

They are strategically located above the eyes, on the chin, and above the upper lip.

The exact pattern and position of whiskers vary with breed.

  • Irish Wolfhound
  • Dandie Dinmont Terrier
  • Portuguese Water Dog
  • Tibetan Terrier
  • Affenpinscher Dog (Monkey Terrier)
  • Pomsky Dog
  • Border Collie
  • Havanese Dog
  • Bolognese Dog
  • Brussels Griffon
  • West Highland White Terrier
  • Schnauzer
  • Cairn Terrier
  • Catalan Sheepdog
  • Long-haired Collie
  • Russian Black Terrier
  • Pyrenean Shepherd
  • Airedale Terrier
  • Norfolk Terrier
  • Pekingese
  • Bichon Maltese
  • Bearded Collie
  • Bergamasco Shepherd
  • Yorkshire Terrier
  • Skye Terrier
  • Maremma Sheepdog
  • Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier
  • Australian Terrier
  • Little Lion Dog
  • Shih Tzu
  • Scottish Terrier
  • Fox Terrier
  • Coton De Tuléar
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Old English Sheepdog

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