Why do dogs have whiskers?
Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers
All the mammals are covered with hair but there are numerous differences between the hair at different parts of their body. We humans have different kinds of hair on our head, arms and other body parts. Similarly, dogs are also covered with hair at different body parts but their whiskers are different and they serve many special purposes.
In this article, we are going to discuss each and everything about the question why do dogs have whiskers. This is going to be very interesting, keep reading till the end!
WHAT ARE DOG WHISKERS?
Although whiskers look like normal hair, they are different from the hair of other body parts. They are generally coarse and thick than regular hair and their roots are three times deeper and stronger. Whiskers grow at specific body parts, they do not grow on the entire body. They are found above the eyes, above the upper lip and on the chin. Further, the pattern and location of whiskers varies with the dog breed.
Moreover, all the dogs have whiskers regardless of their age and breed. Unlike humans, newborn puppies don’t need to be mature to grow whiskers. They automatically develop at the time of their birth.
The whisker follicles are bundled with nerves and blood vessels and for this reason, they are a bit more sensitive than regular hair. As a matter of fact, a dog’s whiskers are as perceptive as our fingertips. This means, while humans sense or feel the things using their fingertips, dogs feel the world with the help of their whiskers.
THE TYPES OF WHISKERS
If you think that the whiskers on different parts of your dog’s body are the same, you’re certainly wrong. Interestingly, there are four types of whiskers: mystacial whiskers, supraorbital whiskers, genal whiskers and interramal tufts. These are scientifically known as vibrissae and serve a special purpose. Let’s discuss all of these in brief!
When people talk about a dog’s whiskers, there are 90% chances that they are talking about mystacial whiskers. These whiskers are generally found on the mouth. The funny part is, people with no idea about whiskers call them dog’s moustaches.
While they look like normal hair, they are thicker and a bit longer.
As we all know, dogs have an excellent sense of smell but as a matter of fact, their sense of sight is not that great. This is where mystacial whiskers help a dog. These whiskers promote the sense of sight by transmitting tactile signals to the dog’s brain and let him know what is on his right or left side. These whiskers also help a dog to determine if he can fit into a hole or not.
If the mystacial whiskers are cut or damaged accidentally, your dog may become more cautious while moving around because this will weaken his sense of sight. You can say that in absence of mystacial whiskers, dogs suffer navigation problems.
These whiskers are found just above the eyes of a dog and their main function is to protect the dog’s eyes. As we know, dogs are very suspicious in nature and sometimes they constantly get into the places they shouldn’t. And because of their weak sense of sight, they are frequently exposed to sticks, branches and other harmful objects. When these objects touch the supraorbital whiskers, a blink reflex is imitated and the dog quickly blinks his eyes. In this way, supraorbital whiskers prevent any nasty object harming the eyes of dogs.
The supraorbital whiskers also help the dogs to navigate in his surroundings properly. They hint the dog about the direction of the wind and hence help him in hunting for food.
If you accidentally or purposefully cut the supraorbital whiskers, your dog will be prone to corneal injuries. You will take away the blink reflex of your dog by damaging these whiskers.
THE GENAL WHISKERS
The whiskers you find on the cheeks of your dog are known as genal whiskers. They usually grow on the widest portion of their face. Genal whiskers help the dogs to navigate in the surroundings safely. They play the same role as mystacial whiskers but in a bigger way.
Because they are present on the widest point of a dog’s face, they prevent the dog from entering the place or hole he won’t be able to fit. Any hindrance touches these whiskers at first and sends the signals to brain n.
Genal whiskers are very important for a dog as they help him in chasing and hunting small creatures such as gophers.
If you think that you can cut these whiskers because your dog is not going to chase the gophers, you’re wrong again! These whiskers assist dogs to move safely.
Finally, there are interramal tufts that grow on the then area of dogs. While some dogs have long and thick interramal tufts, others have them unnoticeable.
Just like the mystacial whiskers hint your dog about his right and left side, interramal tufts tell your dog what is below his face. This is an important function because dogs have eyes on the sides of their heads, hence they can’t look directly below their face.
Interramal tufts are very crucial for the dogs that swim. If you’ve seen a dog swim, you’d have already noticed how it keeps his head several inches above the water. They do this as a feedback mechanism from their interramal whiskers about the level of water. When water touches these whiskers, they get cautious and keep their head a bit high so that they don’t drown.
Cutting these whiskers will take away your dog’s ability to see what is beneath him. It will also create a lot of problems for the dogs that love swimming.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF WHISKERS?
Still wondering WHY DO DOGS HAVE WHISKERS?
The face of a dog is framed by the whiskers and they enhance the entire structure of his face. However, whiskers have a lot more to offer than just aesthetics. They are very crucial for a dog as they serve many important functions. As we already discussed, whiskers are like the sensory tools for dogs, they assist them in performing their daily activities. These special sets of hair not only improves the sense of sight of a dog but also help him to navigate safely in his surroundings. Just like we have our fingertips, insects have antennae, dogs have whiskers that send signals to their brains.
Interestingly, whiskers can’t really feel anything. Their only function is to send information to the sensory nerves on detecting any action or a movement. When an object touches the face of the dog, or the wind blows over the whiskers, these hair vibrates and activates the hair follicle nerves. This is how whiskers got their name “Vibrissae” which is derived from the word “vibrio” that translates “to vibrate”.
They detect the changes in movements and transmit information about shape, size and speed of objects surrounding them. All of this information is used by dogs to navigate the surroundings.
Below Are The Benefits Of Dog Whiskers :
1] THEY WORK AS SENSORS
Canines are popular for their excellent sense of smell and they also hear quite well. However, their sense of sight is very poor. Generally, the dogs can see the distant objects clearly but they can’t really focus on the closer objects. But thankfully, whiskers help them to see closer objects better. They send information about what’s beneath the dogs by transmitting signals to their brains.
When your dog encounters something in his way, he moves the air current which in turn activates its hair follicle cells. In this way, whiskers function like detectors.
These are very helpful for the dog who enjoys hunting in the wild. Moreover, they also protect him from his enemies and the harmful objects on his path. For the domestic dogs, whiskers assist them to locate their toys or food at night. In simple terms, whiskers help dogs to move safely in the dark and prevent them from hitting objects.
2] THEY HELP IN COMMUNICATION
Whiskers are a great way to convey emotions for the dogs. These whiskers rest and become active according to the dog. When a dog is happy, he will lift his whiskers high above his eyes, giving you a beautiful smile and cute looks. Similarly, when your dog is sad or scared, he will direct his whiskers outwards. In this way, you can tell how your dog is feeling by looking at his whiskers.
3] THEY PROTECT THE DOGS
Whiskers offer great protection to our dogs. They are made up of sensory nerves and cells, so when they touch any particle, a dog collects the signals and takes actions to protect himself. Suppose his whiskers touch a sharp object, they will instantly signal the dog to blink his eyes and thus prevent severe corneal injuries. Similarly, if a dog is navigating, his whiskers touch the upcoming bump or thorny bush and signal him to take another way to avoid being injured.
WHAT IF THE DOG’S WHISKERS ARE DAMAGED?
Now, the biggest question, what if a dog’s whiskers are damaged?
After reading the above information, we can assume that you’ve understood how crucial these whiskers are for dogs. They guide them in performing daily activities. So, they shouldn’t be cut or plucked purposefully. However, some dog owners unknowingly cut the whiskers for grooming their pets. Below we are discussing some things that happen when the whiskers of a dog are damaged.
Your Dog Might Not Be Able To Navigate Safely
Since whiskers guide a dog throughout his path and protect him from hitting the obstacles, in absence of them, a dog will have to face difficulties while navigating. This is the reason why most of the dogs seem disoriented after their whiskers are cut. They lose their sense of navigation.
Similarly, whiskers also prevent corneal injuries and help a dog to see what is beneath him. So, when they are damaged, a dog’s sense of sight will also degrade.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU CUT YOUR DOG’S WHISKERS?
There is a misconception that whiskers don’t grow back once they’re cut or damaged but it is entirely false. Whiskers have the same growth rate as normal hair. So, if you cut your dog’s whiskers or if they are accidentally damaged, they will grow back in a few days depending upon the breed of your dog. The chances of them not growing back are very rare. Majority of dog breeds grow their whiskers back in about 2-3 weeks.
Another thing is, cutting or trimming the whiskers don’t hurt the dog. Just like your hair, whiskers don’t feel anything when they are cut. However, if they are plucked or pulled, it can cause immense pain to the dogs. This is because it can also pull the skin and fur around the whisker area. So, even if you’re grooming your dog, avoid plucking or pulling his whiskers.
IS CUTTING DOG WHISKERS THE RIGHT THING TO DO?
Now it is the time to answer the most asked question, is it a good practice to cut your dog’s whiskers?
Here is the answer, there is no valid reason for cutting a dog’s whiskers other than a part of his grooming which is also quite unnecessary. Unless it is suggested by your vet, you shouldn’t cut your dog’s whiskers.
Dogs use their whiskers to perform their daily activities with ease. They act as their sensors, guides and protectors and in absence of them, dogs might feel a bit disoriented. However, it has become a common practice to groom the DOG TAIL and whiskers. According to the dog owners, they noticed many behavioural changes after getting the dog’s whiskers cut. They say, it’s like blindfolding your pet. It weakens his sense of sight and takes away his reflexes. So, if you don’t want to discomfort your dog, don’t mess with his whiskers. And if you still want them trimmed for aesthetic reasons, take advice from your dog groomer or vet.
That’s all about it. We hope it helps!