Have you ever wondered why your dog gets upset when you touch their whiskers, what they’re used for, or if you should trim them?
A dog with their whiskers cut may stumble and appear to have poor vision, particularly in the dark. This is because dogs use their whiskers to detect slight vibrations in the air, allowing them to make up for their far-sighted vision by sensing objects nearby in a different way.
Keep reading to learn all about dog whiskers!
Table of Contents:
What are Dog Whiskers?
Dog whiskers, also known as vibrissae, are thick, firm hairs that protrude from a dog’s face. Though we commonly think of whiskers as being on the cheeks and muzzle, dogs also have whiskers on the bottoms of their chins and whiskers above their eyes that look kind of like eyelashes.
Dogs don’t have feelings in their whiskers, just like we don’t feel any of our hair. However, whiskers do give your dog’s brain a lot of information about the world around them.
This is because the skin at the base of each whisker contains a bundle of sensitive touch receptors that communicate back to the brain. Nearly 40% of the sensory area of your dog’s brain is dedicated to places in the body that have whiskers, and every single whisker connects to its own place in your dog’s brain!
Why do Dogs have Whiskers?
Whiskers serve the following functions:
- To help them sense the world around them
- To keep their eyes clean
- To communicate
- To prevent them from getting stuck or injured
Through their whiskers, dogs can feel changes in air currents. This is super important because dogs don’t have great vision when it comes to things near their face.
They make up for this by having a terrific sense of smell and through their whiskers, which sense vibrations and can tell them the size, shape, and speed of an object in front of them.
Whiskers can also help dogs hunt at night (or, in the case of domesticated dogs, help them find their favorite bed or toy!).
Like our own eyelashes, the whiskers above your dog’s eyes help keep dust, dirt, and debris from getting into the eye. When something falls onto the whiskers, your dog will shake their head to get it off.
Dogs also use their whiskers to communicate. When they’re happy, the whiskers above the eyes stand upright. When they’re scared or angry, the whiskers on the muzzle will flare.
Lastly, dogs’ whiskers help them navigate tight spaces and avoid obstacles. If your dog’s whiskers won’t fit through a space, they know not to attempt to enter, or they’ll get stuck! If they’re tracking something with their nose to the ground and their whiskers brush up against a rock, they know to go around or step over it to avoid tripping.
What are Dog’s Whiskers Made of?
Dog whiskers are made of keratin, which is the same thing that makes up dog fur, skin, and nails. Human hair, skin, and nails are also made of keratin.
The difference between whiskers and fur isn’t what they’re made of but their thickness. If you feel or even look at your dog’s whiskers, you’ll likely notice they’re thicker and less flexible than your dog’s coat. (Please don’t try to bend a dog’s whiskers, though!)
Where do Dogs have Whiskers?
Dogs have four types of whiskers, and each type communicates something different to the brain.
- Mystacial whiskers are located on the dog’s muzzle and are used to feel the world around them and detect objects in their path.
- Supraorbital whiskers are located above the eyes and are used to protect the eyes from damage.
- Genal whiskers are located on the cheeks and are used to squeeze through tight spaces and to keep a dog’s head above water when swimming.
- Interramal whiskers are located on the chin and are used to sense objects below a dog’s head.
Can you Cut Dog Whiskers?
Never cut your dog’s whiskers. They aid them in communicating and navigating their environment, as we discussed above. Cutting a dog’s whiskers isn’t painful, but it still takes away a vital sense and can have negative consequences.
Dogs with trimmed whiskers may stumble more in the dark, get stuck between objects, and seem unsteady on their feet due to the impact on their balance.
That said, sometimes mistakes happen. If you’ve messed up while grooming your dog at home or your young child got ahold of the scissors, your dog will be fine. You’ll just have to give them a few weeks for the whiskers to grow back entirely, and they’ll likely be back to their old self.
It’s important not to let this accident repeat itself, though. Carefully cut around the whiskers when giving your dog a haircut and supervise your dog and child when they’re together.
Should I Pluck my Dog’s Whiskers?
You should absolutely not pluck your dog’s whiskers! This will hurt them due to the considerable number of touch receptors at the base of the whisker.
Think about how waxing or pulling hair hurts a person—and then remember that the base of your dog’s whiskers is even more sensitive!
Do Whiskers Grow Back?
Whiskers do grow back just like any hairs when cut or shed. However, this can take up to a few weeks—and during that time, your dog will be missing one of their most important senses.
Slow shedding of whiskers will have no impact, while a dog whose whiskers were cut off entirely will feel more effects until they regrow.
Do Whiskers Fall Out?
Dogs do shed their whiskers just like dogs shed their fur, but less often since there are fewer of them. You might find a dog whisker on the floor or furniture where your dog spends the most time, and this is completely normal.
It’s also normal not to find the shed whiskers—your vacuum might suck them up before you even notice they’re there. Especially if you only have one dog, it might be difficult to see the whiskers around.
Why are my Dog’s Whiskers Breaking?
If your dog’s whiskers are breaking or just don’t seem healthy, they might be getting old. Other causes include:
- Poor nutrition – Lack of protein or fat can cause hair loss in dogs, as can copper or zinc deficiency. It’s important that your dog is fed a high-quality dog food with meat as the first ingredient. Other signs your dog isn’t getting the right nutrients are a dull coat, fur regrowing slowly, and dry skin.
- Mange – A skin condition caused by mites that can be (but isn’t always) contagious. You’ll notice a lot of itching, patches of missing fur, and redness of the skin, amongst other symptoms.
- Stress – Stress in dogs can cause hair loss, including whisker loss.
- Hormonal imbalance – An imbalance in estrogen or testosterone can cause hair loss in dogs. Female dogs may have low estrogen levels after being spayed and need medication. Other causes of hormone imbalances are ovarian cysts and testicular cancer.
- Skin infection – Skin infections can cause hair loss, irritation, redness, and pimples. The most common skin infection in dogs is Folliculitis.
If your dog’s whiskers are falling out, it’s important to get them to the veterinarian immediately. Even if you think it’s due to old age, it’s good to confirm with a professional since elderly dogs are also more prone to health conditions.
Do Hairless Dogs have Whiskers?
Yes, even hairless breeds have whiskers! These hairs are vital for interacting with the world around them, and as we noted above, a lack of whiskers would change a large portion of a dog’s brain as well as their appearance.
Curly-haired dogs also have whiskers, which might also curl like the rest of their fur. However, they still serve the same purpose. They just look a bit more unique!
When do Whiskers Develop?
Puppies are actually born with whiskers! According to Dr. Leslie Gillette at Pet MD, whiskers are thought to help puppies navigate the world before their eyes open. This helps them find their mother’s nipples to nurse and helps prevent them from becoming lost.
They also don’t tend to wander far from mom—this instinct helps to keep them alive and close to the milk!
Do Dogs Get Whisker Fatigue?
Dogs’ whiskers are sensitive parts of the body, and the skin at the base has many touch receptors. You might notice your dog becoming annoyed if you touch their whiskers, especially if you poke them or pet them the “wrong” way rather than in the direction the hair grows.
Pulling at a dog’s whiskers can even hurt them.
That said, dog’s whiskers aren’t quite as sensitive as cat whiskers. Cats frequently develop what’s known as whisker fatigue or whisker sensitivity, which can cause them not to eat from certain bowls or participate in some activities.
To put it simply, some things are just too much on their whiskers and they can’t handle it!
Dogs can also have whisker fatigue, it’s just less common.
Causes of Whisker Fatigue in Dogs
- Poorly-fitted muzzles or muzzles worn for a long time
- A person touching the dog’s whiskers frequently or for a prolonged period
Unlike cats, dogs are unlikely to care about their food or water bowls touching their whiskers. They usually only mind when the stimulation is excessive.
If a muzzle doesn’t fit right, it’s not going to be comfortable against your dog’s whiskers and could cause fatigue as it rubs against them repeatedly throughout the day. This is even more likely if your dog wears their muzzle for extended periods without breaks.
Petting your dog’s whiskers is also likely to bother them, especially if you’re doing it constantly. Make sure to teach kids how to pet dogs, how to read their body language, and where not to touch—such as the whiskers, eyes, inside the mouth, and anywhere else your dog dislikes!
Even if your dog is very patient or your child is great with animals, always supervise the two when they’re together. This will reduce problems and keep them both from hurting one another, which can happen even by accident!
Dog Whiskers vs Cat Whiskers
Dog and cat whiskers are very similar, but they do have a few differences, which we’ll discuss below!
Firstly, cat whiskers tend to be more sensitive. As we discussed above, some cats can’t tolerate deep, slim bowls for their food and water.
When their whiskers rub against the dish as they eat or drink, the cat will become very uncomfortable and might even stop using the bowl. A cat might stop halfway through the meal as their whiskers begin to brush the dish uncomfortably, and the discomfort isn’t worth stuffing their face in the bowl to finish!
Another difference is that cats have whiskers on their legs, while dogs don’t. These whiskers help cats climb trees and detect movement in their prey after catching it.