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  • Vickie Foster

Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?

All dogs have whiskers, even hairless breeds. Curly coated dog breeds can have curly whiskers and their color is determined by their coat. They play a vital role in a dog’s sensory perception and in communication.

Whiskers are made of keratin, the same material as their coat, but whiskers are much thicker and have a tapered end. They grow above their eyes, on their cheeks, muzzles, and sometimes under the chin. The length of a dog’s whiskers depends on their size. Dogs that are small have smaller whiskers. The wider the head the larger the whiskers.


Sensory Perception

Dog whiskers contain tactile receptor cells that send signals to the brain. If a whisker is touched or moved by an air current that vibration sends nerve impulses to the brain. Whiskers can detect the size, shape, and speed of nearby objects based on these impulses. Different whiskers serve different functions.


Muzzle whiskers extend toward an approaching object and help to determine the size and shape of the object. Eye whiskers detect a potential threat to the eye. If a threat is detected it initiates the blink reflex. Cheek whiskers help with peripheral perception. These are used in tight spaces and in keeping a dog’s head upright while swimming. Chin whiskers detect food, water, and other objects that are not in normal vision.


Communication

A dog’s whiskers can also convey happiness or anxiety. A dog that is relaxed will have their whiskers flat against their face. Happy dogs will raise their eyebrow whiskers. Dogs that are scared or sense a threat will flare their muzzle whiskers out and down toward the threat. Muzzle whiskers also release pheromones that aid in communication.


Cutting Whiskers

You should never cut a dog’s whiskers as it will stunt their balance, movement, and ability to sense environmental cues. All of these things can cause a dog significant stress. In fact, cutting a dog's whiskers has been banned in several European countries. 0A dog will shed whiskers just like any other coat hair, and a new whisker will grow back in a few weeks.


A dog’s whiskers are unique. Each whisker serves a purpose that helps your dog with sensory and communication functions. Whiskers are important to your pooch in their day to day life.

 

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All proceeds from Thousand Hills Pet Resort support New Life K9s. New Life K9s provides service dogs to veterans and first responders with PTSD at no cost to them.

 

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