Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?

Dog whiskers
Annie Thorne / Flickr

Have you ever heard that trimming your dog’s whiskers can make her mentally imbalanced? That’s a myth. Dog whiskers only determine your dog’s interpretation of the environment, and trimming them will not have any side effects on your dog if it is done correctly. Many people are unclear about what hairs on a dog qualify as whiskers, so let’s take a look at what whiskers are before discussing their importance.

What are Whiskers?

Whiskers refer to the thick hairs on dogs’ faces. Unlike most people think, whiskers are not just the hairs on a dog’s muzzle, but they also refer to those above her eyes and under her chin.

Whiskers are very sensitive. The hair follicles from which whiskers spring contain sensitive nerves and blood vessels. As a result, when you touch your dogs’ whiskers, she feels a profound sensation.

Dog whiskers
Mxart / Pixabay

Why are Whiskers Important?

Whiskers give dogs a sense of direction. While a dog’s sense of smell is mostly responsible for how it perceives things, people, or places, whiskers also contribute to how they view them. When a dog needs to determine how close or distant an object is from him- whether it’s a nearby wall that the dog is about to bump into or a ball aimed in her direction, whiskers come into play.

Whiskers also alert a dog’s brain when it comes across an unfamiliar or dangerous person, so it knows to bark.

How Whiskers Work

Unlike what you may think, whiskers don’t operate by feeling. Instead, they work by transmitting messages to a dog’s brain. According to the American Kennel Club, AKC, whiskers get these messages when they detect a slight change in air currents, which occur when dogs move closer to objects around them. When whiskers detect these changes, they vibrate. Then, these vibrations are transmitted to the brain in the form of touch-sensitive signals, to generate a corresponding response from the dog.

Another group of animal experts, the Veterinary Centers of America, VCA, also reports that about half of the sensory regions in a dog’s brain are positioned in the same direction as the face that houses the whiskers. If you are very observant, you may notice that when your dog encounters a strange sound or object, she inches her whiskers towards the sound source or the object to assess it.

Steve Maskell / Flickr

What if I Trim My Dog’s Whiskers?

Since your dog’s sense of smell already performs most of the sensory functions it needs, you might feel safe trimming its whiskers. After all, you want your dog to be the very image of cuteness, so every limiting factor should be taken out of the way.

Rest assured that trimming your dog’s whiskers is less likely to cause any sensory problems for your dog. Cases, where dogs with trimmed whiskers lost their sensory abilities, are mythical at best.

Safety Precautions to Take When Trimming Your Dog’s Whiskers

Always use a pair of electric clippers or scissors when trimming your dog’s whiskers. Scissors and clippers work by removing hairs above the surface of the skin where whiskers are located.

Avoid using methods like plucking or electrolysis. These methods will hurt your dog because they take out hairs from below the skin’s surface.

While you may prefer to do the trimming yourself, we recommend that you employ a groomer’s services. Groomers are more experienced with dogs, so they know what to do to avoid hurting your dog.

Most of the sensory functions whiskers provide can easily be substituted by their sense of smell. So, it’s okay to trim your dog’s whiskers.

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