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Grooming & Wellbeing

Why do Dogs Have Whiskers?

One morning, while stroking Rex the family dog, you may notice that Rex has a number of hairs protruding from his muzzle. In fact, Felix the family cat has similar hairs in the same area too! Plus, on the off-chance that you have a family seal, you may notice they too have the same hairs protruding from the same area.

These are called ‘vibrissae’ or – as they are more commonly known – whiskers. They are long, thick hairs located on the sides of the nose, muzzle, on the chin and on the forehead of a number of animals. They are very different from the hairs you will find on the body of a dog and, if you have a feel of Rex’s whiskers, you’ll notice they are considerably more rigid and stiff. Furthermore, the whiskers’ roots are set three times deeper than normal hairs.

Why do dogs have whiskers?

So, what is the purpose of whiskers on a dog? Whiskers help dogs navigate their surroundings and serve as a warning device that something is close. Ever notice how your dog hardly ever bumps into walls or doors? That’s because whiskers help dogs determine the presence of objects surrounding them and keep them from bumping their head into those aforementioned objects. They are also integral to helping dogs navigate in dim light or at night, much in the same way that insects use their antennae.

Whiskers also serve as protection, much like eyelashes to a human. Whiskers are extremely sensitive to vibrations in air currents, like when an object is near. So, when a dog approaches a wall, some of the air that it stirs up by moving bounces back from surface, bending the whiskers slightly. This is enough to inform the dog to move away and, overall, is helpful to protecting the eyes and the face.

Grooming

However, many dog groomers consider whiskers to be a purely cosmetic feature and when dogs are entered into shows, many rules stipulate that whiskers must be trimmed. Clipping whiskers isn’t painful for dogs but it can be uncomfortable and stressful. Furthermore, some experts believe that with less sensory information, dogs can become shy, timid and unsure of their movements. Whiskers do grow back over a couple of weeks but for that period, your dog may start acting strange as they adjust to a whisker-less life for the time being.

For dogs with impaired vision or other disabilities, it is certainly worth keeping whiskers as these dogs are even more dependent on their senses than usual.

If you do go ahead with whisker clipping, it is recommended to get the procedure done by a professional as there are a number of risks associated with cutting whiskers. For example, dogs can get ingrown hairs if the whiskers are clipped too short.

Overall, whiskers are an important part of a dog. They can help shape your dog’s personality and appearance but, most of all, they help your dog navigate the complex maze that is your property. Some groomers do cut them but we remain firmly in the pro-whiskers school of thought.

Rupert Brown

Rupert owns and runs Muddy Paws with his wife Emma. Having set up the company when Oscar was a puppy 8 years ago (the famous chief tester here at Muddy Paws HQ), Rupert has lots of experience when it comes to looking after a canine companion. Visit Rupert's Google+ profile.

Rupert Brown

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