Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?

Whiskers are definitely adorable, but do they serve a purpose for your dog? Some groomers shave them, but this can actually be slightly detrimental. What exactly are whiskers for, and should they be left alone?

The Function of Whiskers on Dogs

Scientifically, whiskers are known as vibrissae. Their function is to help your dog feel their way around their environment. If you’ve noticed, whiskers are thicker than any other type of hair on your dog’s body. They’re also embedded more deeply into the skin, and the base of the hair is loaded with sensitive touch neurons that react to touch.

What other animals have functional whiskers?

Dogs aren’t the only ones who have vibrissae. Other animals that have these types of whiskers include:

  • Bears
  • Seals
  • Cats
  • Rats

How Do We Know What Function Whiskers Serve?

Various scientific studies have found that 40 percent of a dog’s touch function is dedicated to the face, especially in the upper jaw where the majority of the whiskers are located. Brain scans show that each individual whisker is assigned to a particular location in the brain. This means that each whisker has its own unique function!

Science is great. But what are these whiskers doing?

Whiskers are an early warning system that alert dogs that something is near their face. The way your dog’s eyes are situated on their head means their vision isn’t as good as yours because their muzzle impedes their vision, so the whiskers prevent them from running into walls, furniture, or other objects.

The whiskers are also an aid in locating things like their toys. Scientists say it’s similar to how a vision-impaired person uses a cane. The muscles that control the whiskers shift the hairs forward when the dog is coming up on an object. They “whisk” (thus the name “whiskers”!) or vibrate, stimulating the brain to move the head towards the object and brush the whiskers against whatever surface is being approached. This helps the brain determine the shape and surface of what’s near their face. Dog see things better from a distance, so these whiskers are essential.

What Happens When Whiskers are Shaved?

If whiskers are removed, your dog has difficulty seeing in low light conditions and they’re more likely to bump into things. If your dog goes to a groomer, reiterate that their whiskers need to stay intact and not to shave them off.

Whiskers are an essential part of your dog’s ability to be active. They don’t require any sort of maintenance, so for the sake of your dog, just leave them alone.

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