Aim and take care of them
- Dogs use their whiskers to detect nearby objects, smell new spaces, and signal other dogs.
- Never remove or trim your dog’s whiskers as this can affect their spatial awareness and safety.
- If you notice brittle or droopy whiskers, call your veterinarian, as this may suggest a health problem.
One distinctive trait that makes dogs so endearing — aside from those wiggly tails and furry ears — is their whiskers.
Regardless of their breed, all dogs have these specialized hairs, called “vibrissae”.
The whiskers are thicker, coarser and have a deeper root than regular dog hair. They can also vary greatly in length and color. Typically, members of the same breed will have similar whiskers, but not always, says Dr. Linda Simonveterinarian and consultant for Five Boats.
Dog whiskers aren’t just for show, either. Here’s what to know about these unique functional hairs.
What are dog whiskers for?
The most important, the mustaches act as radar detectorshelping dogs “smell” things they might not otherwise notice.
The main purposes of mustaches include:
1. Detection in their environment
Touch-sensitive neurons at the base of the whiskers send key information to the dog’s brain on its environment.
Alongside similar neurons on the sides of the muzzle and cheeks, whiskers help dogs:
- Feel the size of the space around them to determine if they can fit in a certain place.
- Provide an image of what’s underneath, as they may have trouble seeing past their muzzle, depending Pet Meds veterinary Dr. Lindsay Butzer.
- Feel where his favorite chew toy, bed or food bowl is in the dark.
When your dog walks towards an object, the air he agitates bounces off the surface and subtly flexes his whiskers. This tells them they’re getting close to something before they even touch it, and protects them from bumping into walls and other objects.
Not only that, but Butzer says the supraorbital whiskers (located above the eyes) help protect the eyes from anything that might irritate or damage them. For example, dust or dirt particles will get stuck in the whiskers before entering your dog’s eyes.
3. Convey health and mood information
Whiskers can help your pet send signals to other dogs, Butzer says. For example, if he feels unsafe and needs to look more threatening, your dog can spread his mysterious whiskers (located on either side of the muzzle) and move them forward to face the impending threat. .
On the other hand, they can lift the supraorbital whiskers when feeling happy and excited.
Additionally, whiskers can give clues to your dog’s overall health. According to Butzer, mustaches that are droopy, brittle to the touch, or full of split ends can signal a possible health problem.
Since dog whiskers can detect information about the size and speed of nearby objects, they can be useful tools for tracking prey.
“Whiskers can also detect subtle changes in air currents. When prey is running fast, causing the air particles to vibrate, your dog will be the first to know,” says Simon.
Where do dog whiskers grow?
Whiskers do not cover the whole body like normal hair. Rather, says Butzer, they are strategically located in three specific areas:
- The mystacial whiskers, located on the sides of the muzzle
- The general whiskers, located at the back of the cheeks
- The supraorbital whiskers, located above the eyes
The exact location of the whiskers can vary somewhat depending on the dog’s breed. For example, some may have more whiskers above the eyes and less on the sides of the muzzle, or vice versa.
Do they grow back?
While you may be wondering if you should trim your dog’s whiskers to tidy them up or give them a neater appearance, veterinarians advise against it. Trimming can affect the whiskers’ ability to function properly, Simon says, making your dog a little less aware of space.
If you remove or severely trim your dog’s whiskers, he may not be getting enough information from his surroundings to move around easily. Thus, they may become more uncertain or confused and move more slowly in dim lighting.
“The cut is generally old-fashioned, even in show business, as we’ve come to have a better appreciation for the function and importance of mustaches,” Butzer says.
If you or your groomer accidentally cuts them, it’s not the end of the world. The cut does not cause your dog pain and the whiskers will grow back as long as the follicle at the root is not damaged.
It can take up to two or three months for them to return to their original length, according to Simon, depending on how much has been cut.
How to Care for Dog Whiskers
Caring for dog whiskers is quite simple. In fact, Butzer says your best bet is to leave them alone.
If they are muddy, try wiping your dog’s face gently with a damp cloth, then a dry cloth. You can also use a dog-friendly shampoo on your dog’s head and muzzle – just avoid the ears and eyes.
If you’re hiking and need to wipe down dirty mustaches in a snap, Butzer suggests spraying waterless shampoo on a paper towel.
As a general rule, experts say there’s no medical reason to trim your dog’s whiskers – and even if you want to for cosmetic reasons, remember that trimming can damage their functionality. So you might want to let your groomer know that you don’t want the whiskers trimmed at all.
Whiskers are a special type of sensory hair that can help increase your dog’s awareness of his surroundings. They also allow your dog to convey certain emotions and protect themselves from potential harm. For these reasons, veterinarians advise against trimming them.
Like other hair types, mustaches follow a cycle of growth and can sometimes fall out naturally. If your dog loses whiskers or you accidentally cut them off, remember that they usually return to their original length over time.