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Why do dogs have whiskers?

Updated on May 10, 2010

Dogs are really very hairy animals. The fur that covers the dog entirely seems to be not enough. The dog still grows whiskers! Naturally, both hairs would have different functions.

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The very sensitive whiskers

Did you know that whiskers are ultra sensitive? Some dogs would not even eat in bowls where the whiskers would constantly brush the sides. The stimulation would prove to be too much for the dog. These long and stiff hair that grows on the muzzle, above the eyes and times under the chin to form a very sparse beard have hair follicles that are set three times deeper than ordinary hair. The whiskers are very sensitive as the follicle is set on a mound of a network of nerves. These whiskers that are also known as vibrissae are highly receptive to touch. Try touching the whiskers of a dog (make sure the dog is friendly) and you will see that the dog would immediately react.

Functions of a dog’s whiskers

Whiskers are the dog’s very own radar or antennae that receive information and transmit it to the brain. It is an important tool used by the dog to feel its way in the dark. With the aid of the whiskers, your dog can easily locate its water bowl in the middle of the night without bumping to the side table holding momma’s priceless antique vase. Some scientists believe that whiskers are used by the dog to evade predators. Subconsciously, the dog frightens the predator by taking on the predator’s worst fears. Amazing! Because the whiskers receive information from air current, the dog can detect the presence of preys hundreds of meters away. Whiskers are also used to measure an opening like the width of a rabbits burrow. The whiskers of rat terriers would come at play when the dog follows the rat to its tunnel. When the air moves, the vibrating whiskers would sense the size, the shape as well as the presence of objects.

Whisker Care

As mentioned, whiskers are very sensitive. When you pet your dog’s head try to be careful not to rub the whiskers against the direction of the natural hair growth. It would be very uncomfortable for the dog. The best thing to do is to leave the vibrissae alone. Show dogs would need to be groomed and owners may opt to trim, to pluck or to have the whiskers surgically removed for a neater appearance.  Surgical removal is not recommended by vets as it would mean eliminating something that improves the dog’s senses. Plucking is also a big NO. Since the hair is deeply embedded, plucking would cause bleeding. This is why vibrissae are also known as bleeding hair. Trimming would be the better option as it won’t hurt the dog too much and the hair would again grow.

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      sam 5 years ago

      his whiskers on side of face look infected?

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      Tina 6 years ago

      thanks for the infos about the whiskers..it says to not pluck the whiskers, i sometimes do but not intentially b/c when i comb their face/head with a thin comb it happens..my puppies seems to be ok tho, well hopefully!! *cross-fingers*

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      Abby 6 years ago

      I never knew any of this information!

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      KittieeKat 6 years ago

      Haha thanks for this I knew a lot about dogs but I hadn't known about the reasoning for their whiskers.......I thought--balance maybe aside from their tails?? Lol (:

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      Jenna 7 years ago

      Thanks i now know what they use them for

      sure this site will help lots of other people!!!!!

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      Oli Sykes 7 years ago

      This is super duper. I was wondring what they needed them for. So thanks for makin this page!

      -Oli Sykes. Bmth