Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers

whiskers on a dog's nose up close

close up of a dog’s nose

Every part of our dog’s face is adorable. From their cute little noses to their loving eyes and their little twitching whiskers. But did you ever wonder why do they have those whiskers? We know that they are common in many mammals, but exactly why do our dogs have and need them?

Making Sense of Their World

Mostly, whiskers, or technically called “vibrissae” are used to by mammals to sense the world around them. Dr Jessica Vogelsang, DVM, states these long coarse hairs, “play a special role in tactile sensation, helping animals define where they are in space.” With the help of their snout and olfactory senses, whiskers help dogs learn about the world around them.

How Do They Work?

Dogs explore and learn about the world with their whiskers and snout. This is all because of Merkel cells, much like nerves, are specialized skin receptors that help enhance our dog’s tactile environmental sensations. Also, along the snout where whiskers grow are receptors that make their entire face a high-sensation area.

  • Sensory functions
  • Food acquisition
  • Communication with other species
  • Dispersion of pheromones
  • Wind direction and water detection
  • Assess size, shape and speed of nearby objects
  • Convey emotions

How Are They Different Than Hair?

You can tell by looking at and touching your dog’s whiskers that they are much different than the rest of their hair. Not only are they more coarse than fur, whiskers are innervated, meaning they are directed by the nervous system. Dr Vogelsang explains at LiveScience.com, that “whiskers that protrude from the muzzle, jaw, and above the eyes, with follicles at the base of the hairs, are full of nerves. It’s these nerves that send sensory messages to the brain.”

Also, unlike hair, you never want to trim your dog’s whiskers. While it’s not painful if they are cut, it can be disorienting for them to lose that part of their spatial awareness. However, if you or possibly a curious child have cut them, don’t worry they will grow back.

Whiskers are not only adorable, but they are also an important part of our dog’s faces. They help them understand the world around them and convey emotions. We can tell if they excited or mad and they can tell what’s around them.

Tell us about your adorable pet’s adorable whiskers. We’d love to hear about your stories. You can reach us on Twitter or on our Facebook page!

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