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Why Dogs Have Whiskers

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There may be more to these wiry filaments than meets the eye, at least the human eye.

Most dogs have whiskers. They vary in appearance based on breed and individual genetics. Probably everyone with dogs is familiar with the prominent whiskers on their muzzles. But did you know that dog also have whiskers above their eyes, on their chins, and above their upper lips?

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Compared to ordinary hairs, whiskers ...

  • are coarser
  • are twice as thick
  • have roots that are set three times deeper
  • are much more sensitive, because they're packed with nerves—they're more like your fingertips

Although dogs are renown for their superior senses of smell and hearing, whiskers play a role in helping them respond to their environment as well. They send a constant stream of data about their surroundings to their brains.

A dog’s whiskers can detect faint vibrations (in fact the scientific name for whiskers is vibrissae) and minute shifts in wind speed and direction, which helps them determine the presence, size, shape, and motion of objects in their vicinity. That's particularly useful in the dark. Think back to the wild: that object could be prey—or a predator. In their safe indoor homes, dogs might use their whiskers to help them find their water bowls or favorite toys at night.

Whiskers also help protect dogs. If a speck of dirt, a thorn, or other foreign body touches their whiskers, they’re likely to blink or shake their faces, and avoid injury.

Some breeds use whiskers to determine whether they can fit through a narrow passage or poke their heads into holes.

Because their whiskers are so sensitive, when you touch a dog’s whiskers, do so delicately and with the grain.

Whiskers can be affected by some of the same diseases that affect a dog's skin and coat. The good thing about that is that a veterinarian can use standard dermatological methods to diagnose the problem and restore the whiskers to good health.

 

Disclaimer: This website is not intended to replace professional consultation, diagnosis, or treatment by a licensed veterinarian. If you require any veterinary related advice, contact your veterinarian promptly. Information at DogHealth.com is exclusively of a general reference nature. Do not disregard veterinary advice or delay treatment as a result of accessing information at this site.