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Why do dogs have whiskers?

Dog whiskers and muzzle

Have you ever wondered why dogs have whiskers? Let's find out!

© laolaopui - Shutterstock

You may have noticed that your dog has white little hairs near its nose, commonly called “whiskers”. White, almost translucent and quite rigid, whiskers play a very important role for your pooch. But what are they used for? Let’s find out 3 reasons why dogs have whiskers.

By Emilie Heyl

Updated on the

As you may have noticed, your dog has "vibrissae" commonly called "whiskers". The dog's whiskers are found on the muzzle, lips, under the chin, on the cheeks and above the eyes. These hairs are composed of a root and a hair bulb and are distinguished from other hairs because, at the base, we find mechanoreceptors that are much more sensitive than other dog hairs.

The dog's coat is mainly used to keep it warm. While the dog's whiskers are a primary sensory organ. They are used to detect the vibrations around the dog and the differences in pressure. They also detect movements and evaluate the shapes and distances between an object and its muzzle. These hairs, in addition to being part of the sense of touch, are also a natural protection for your dog's eyes.

Let's find out in detail the different functions of a dog's whiskers and see why they should never be cut off.

What are dog whiskers?

These hairs we are talking about have another name: the vibrissae. These long keratinous extensions, otherwise called whiskers, are linked to a sensory organ. They are found in various places in the canine anatomy: near the nose, around the muzzle, above the eyes and on the chin.

Vibrissae are thicker, longer and stiffer than normal hair. The follicle (the base) of these hairs is also much more innervated, which makes them more sensitive than the rest of the dog's hair on its coat. Their bulbs are very deeply rooted.

Many mammals, both land and sea, have vibrissae: cats, foxes, seals, rodents, etc. Did you know that men also have vibrissae? It is none other, with us, than the hairs in our nose! We all know that everything has its uses in nature, and vibrissae are no exception! 

Dog whiskers: Why do dogs have vibrissae?

Your dog's whiskers have an essential role. Indeed, they allow your dog to orient himself, to detect shapes, the texture of objects and even to evaluate the distances between an object and its muzzle. But not only that, whiskers have many other functions and especially play an important sensory role.

Good to know: it is considered that nearly 40% of the sense of touch in dogs is monopolised by their head, thanks to the presence of vibrissae. The dog's whiskers and other vibrissae therefore play an essential role in the dog's perception of touch, which helps it in particular through its movements.

Dogs have whiskers for these reasons:

  • Vibrissae are the primary organ of touch in dogs.
  • They make it possible to capture vibrations, as well as pressure.
  • They help your dog to measure the distance from nearby objects, walls or threats.
  • They help your dog in tracking, by making him spot vibrations on the ground.
  • They help your dog to move better, using its muzzle as a “guide”.
  • They are also warning sensors, which for example help your dog to close its eyes when an object approaches it.

Let's find out in detail the different functions of the dog's whiskers.

The dog's whiskers are used for orientation

While it is difficult for us to walk around in the dark, the dog does so thanks to its vibrissae. He can indeed assess distances and be aware of the place his body occupies in space. The sensitivity of the vibrissae to movements and impulses is therefore very useful!

A blind dog, for example, would be more handicapped if it did not have whiskers. The latter also promote the anticipation of the movements exerted by the environment on the dog.

Dog's whiskers are part of their sense of touch

Whiskers help improve the dog's perception. The basis of each vibrissae are tiny, yet very effective receptors. These move in various directions and thus constitute a kind of sixth sense for the dog, in addition to his already very developed flair.

When they hit something, the whiskers start to vibrate (hence their name vibrissae)! When you are about to stroke your dog, he “feels” and “sees” your hand approaching using his vibrissae. They are also what give him his dexterity and good reflexes during playtime!

Thanks to them, the dog is also able to guess the shape and composition of objects in its environment. Therefore, they can detect the shapes and textures of objects and evaluate the distances with their muzzle.

Dog’s whiskers also protect them from foreign bodies. Indeed, concerning the vibrissae located above the eyes, they will have a protective role in order to prevent dust or dirt entering his eye.

The dog’s whiskers reflect their emotions

Your dog's whiskers can help you understand your dog’s emotions. When you see your dog relaxing, his whiskers are lower. On the other hand, when he is happy, he tends to lift his whiskers, along with his eyes and his face. Likewise, when dogs feel threatened, whiskers tend to lift up and point towards the object in question.

A dog's whiskers can also play an important role in communication with other canine species or other animals. If he feels threatened, for example, the dog's whiskers can indicate to other animals that he is ready to defend himself.

Do all dogs have whiskers?

Yes, all dogs have whiskers. Note also that hunting dogs have longer whiskers than others because they are useful in their activity.

Is it OK to cut a dog's whiskers?

You should never cut a dog's whiskers! You will understand, the vibrissae are essential for your pooch. By cutting off his whiskers, your dog will lose some of his senses. It will be more difficult for him to orient himself, to detect shapes that are close to his muzzle, etc.

Can a dog's whiskers grow back?

Rest assured, a dog's whiskers can grow back. If your groomer accidentally cuts vibrissae or if they are torn off, they may grow back.

Can a dog lose its whiskers naturally?

Dogs may well lose their whiskers, either naturally or from illness. Do not hesitate to consult your veterinarian if you notice that your dog is losing its whiskers.

Frequently asked questions

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What is the role of a guide dog?

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1 comment
Ellie
elliesanderson
Oh super interesting!
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