Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?

by Sundays

Black and white cocker spaniel dog with whiskers

Whiskers serve more than just one purpose for your dog, here's all of the things these hairs can do.

Dog whiskers are not as noticeable as all the other stuff that makes them cute, like their waggy tails, expressive eyes, and unique quirks. But then you find yourself staring into their face one day and wondering why dogs have whiskers. 

We’ve got eyebrows that don’t seem to serve a purpose. Instead of eyebrows, dogs have whiskers above their eyes and also on their cheeks and chin. The difference, though, is that their whiskers aren’t just there to raise their cuteness factor. These hairs actually do several cool things for your pup. 

Dog whiskers vs. their regular hair

A dog’s whiskers are different from the other hair that makes up their coat. For one thing, a whisker is a lot stiffer to the touch. Whiskers are also thicker than other hairs on your dog’s body, even though they are both made of a protein called keratin.

Another really important difference is how they’re attached. The root of each whisker lies a lot deeper in the skin than ordinary hair follicles. At the base, there’s a bunch of nerve endings and blood vessels. So when your dog’s face brushes up against something with their whiskers, they “feel” it in those nerves.

Some dogs have more whiskers in certain places than others, but general, the places you’ll find them are:

  • Above the eyes (supraorbital)
  • On the muzzle (mystacial)
  • Under the chin (interramal)
  • On the cheeks (genal)

What do dog whiskers do for dogs?

Whiskers serve more than just one purpose for your dog.

Provide protection.

One spot where you might notice whiskers on your dog is above their eyes. Those whiskers function more like our eyelashes than eyebrows, helping to keep out anything that might irritate the eye, like dust or pollen. If something lands on one of these whiskers, the dog will feel it and will automatically blink to protect their eye.

Act as sensitive feelers.

Think of dog whiskers as secret researchers and messengers for your dog. We know dogs get tons of information from the scents they love to sniff, but at the same time, their whiskers are also hard at work gathering other types of intel. 

The way a dog “feels” with their whiskers has been compared to the way humans would feel with fingertips. Take the cheek and chin whiskers, for instance. Your dog can tell if a spot is too small to fit through if their cheek whiskers touch the edges. They can also sense things out of their range of vision with their chin whiskers.

This whiskered advantage can really come in handy for finding their way in the dark or if your pup is older and can’t see as well as they did before.

Detect changes in their environment.

Can you tell when the wind changes direction, or how fast an animal is running? What about temperature changes? Your dog might be able to tell you just by listening to feedback from their whiskers. This can really help if your pupper is trying to hone their hunting skills.

Reveal their mood.

You can learn a lot about your dog’s mood from the way they move their tail, ears, and yes, even their whiskers. 

When your pup is happy, look for a wiggly tail and body, relaxed tongue with an open mouth, and whiskers resting against their face. If they are on alert, you might see tail and ears standing straight up, and their whiskers will flare out or twitch. A dog that’s happy and ready to play will raise their “eyebrow” whiskers. 

Do dog whiskers grow back?

You might sometimes see whiskers that have shed or fallen off your dog. Are they gone for good, or will they grow back? 

You shouldn’t worry about finding the occasional whisker, but definitely check in with your vet if your pup is losing a lot of them or you’re finding them around the house pretty often. 

Whiskers also grow back if you accidentally cut them. But don’t cut them on purpose, because it could make your dog disoriented, or they may even feel unsure about moving around. Plus, it takes a long time for them to grow back–up to three months.

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