Your Dog's Whiskers Help in More Ways Than You Realize

Dog whiskers are cute, but they also serve important functions for your pup.

Published March 2, 2023
close-up image of dog's whiskers

A dog's whiskers are sensory organs that help them navigate the world. Whiskers are made of the same material as human hair and are attached to muscles and sensory neurons in your dog's muzzle. They are very sensitive to touch and pressure and help your dog in a variety of ways. They should not be cut for any reason unless directed by a veterinarian.

Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?

Dog whiskers are known as vibrissae, and they help dogs detect their surroundings. Whiskers are like secret sensory organs that give dogs all kinds of information about their world. The whisker hairs themselves do not feel anything. Instead, they act like antennae, and communicate information to dogs through sensory cells in their skin. Whiskers let dogs know which way the wind is blowing, what is moving around them, and how close objects or other animals are to their face.

1. They're for Spacial Awareness

The hairs are packed with nerve endings that send signals to the brain, which tells the dog where it is in relation to other objects around it. Dogs do not see well up close, and whiskers provide sensory information about what's close to the dog's face.

2. They Detect Air Movement

Whiskers are extremely sensitive, so they can pick up even subtle changes in air currents, like when an object is near or about to touch a dog's face. Dogs use their whiskers a little like radar. As air moves around and vibrates against their whiskers, dogs can tell what's around them.

3. They Help Find Food

Dogs also use their whiskers to locate food by using them like antennae to detect any motion around them, such as prey moving through bushes or grass. Combined with their sense of smell, dogs use their whiskers to help them be better hunters.

Fast Fact

Dogs who suffer from facial paralysis may not be able to use their whiskers for sensory purposes. If your dog has partial or full facial paralysis, they may need special water bowls and softer food to help cope.

4. They Protect the Face

Dog whiskers serve a protective function, because they let dogs know when objects close to them may hit their nose or eyes. If you try touching your dog's whiskers (gently), you'll find they react and will probably move their faces in response.

5. They Help Navigate in the Dark

Because dogs do not see well up close, they rely on their whiskers for information about what's going on around them. In the dark, they use their whiskers to feel their way around their environment, and whiskers help dogs figure out if they're close to any objects in their way.

Dogs Use Whiskers for Communication

Whiskers also help dogs communicate with one another. The angle of a dog's whiskers also shows how they feel about something, especially when they're interacting with people.

  • If a dog has their whiskers forward and pointing straight out, it means they're very interested in what is going on around them and may be excited about something or someone new in their environment.
  • If the whiskers are pointed straight up, it means they're not sure about what they see or smell. They may even be afraid of it, so they want to keep a safe distance from whatever it is that's making them uncomfortable.
  • When the whiskers are turned down at the tips and hanging down over the mouth, this means that the dog doesn't feel comfortable at all.

Don't Cut Your Dog's Whiskers

dog with whiskers

When it comes to grooming, some dog owners feel that cutting off their pets' whiskers is a good idea. While some show dogs have their whiskers trimmed to give their faces a cleaner look, this is actually prohibited in many countries. Because whiskers perform an important sensory function, you should never clip or trim your dog's whiskers without veterinary approval.

Cutting off your dog's whiskers can cause them to feel disoriented and unstable. This can make it difficult for them to find their way around, which can be dangerous if they're in unfamiliar surroundings, and can even contribute to your dog getting lost.

If you must trim your dog's whiskers, do so with care, cutting only about one-third of the length of each one. They should never be any shorter than that!

Your Dog's Whiskers

You may have heard that whiskers aren't necessary for a dog's well-being, but the truth is that they help your pup judge distance and navigate through unfamiliar surroundings. Whiskers also help dogs communicate their emotional states with other dogs and people, including their owners! So the next time someone suggests you cut off your dog's whiskers, just smile and say no.

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Your Dog's Whiskers Help in More Ways Than You Realize