Your dog’s whiskers might not be something you’ve given a lot of thought. Dogs seem to bring as many questions as a child does. Many of these are related to your dog’s physical, mental, and emotional health. Others are related to your dog’s behavior. Your pet’s whiskers may seem unimportant by comparison, but they do serve a purpose.
Do dogs’ whiskers grow back?
Yes, your dog’s whiskers will grow back. They are hairs, just like the hairs of your dog’s coat. However, there are some significant differences between whiskers and other types of hair.
What are Whiskers?
Whiskers are a special type of hair known as vibrasse. These hairs are much thicker and longer than the hairs of your dog’s coat. They also have a deeper root than the hair of the coat. In fact, the root of whiskers is three times deeper than other hairs.
The Role of Whiskers
As the technical name suggests, the whiskers pick up on vibrations. You may have heard of dogs having a sixth sense. It’s thought that their whiskers play a vital role in this.
Whiskers have blood vessels and nerves in the follicle, unlike other hairs. They are surrounded by muscles and, surprisingly, erectile tissue. This erectile tissue is very similar to that sported by the males of our own species.
The vibrations of the whiskers are used to detect vibrations in the air. This is useful when your dog is walking in the dark, because it can help them detect obstacles they can’t see. It’s also useful for working dogs that enter dark tunnels or tall grass.
It may help them navigate, even when they can see well. It’s believed to aid them in spatial awareness and direction. Whiskers not only pick up on vibration, but sound as well.
In some ways, dog whiskers are similar to our fingertips. They are very sensitive and help the dog to navigate and understand its world.
Different Types of Whiskers
You’ve probably noticed whiskers on different areas of your dog’s face. These whiskers each have their own name and unique function.
Mystacial whiskers are the most noticeable. They sprout from the muzzle, just above the upper lip. The whiskers on the side of the muzzle will be longer, and the ones in the front are shorter.
These whiskers help your canine companion avoid obstacles, particularly on the sides. The front mystacial whiskers help your dog find food. In addition to locating the food itself, it helps with coordination. They help them eat from a bowl without tipping it over.
Genal whiskers are on the side of your dog’s face. They give them information about things in their peripheral vision. This provides a more detailed side view than eyesight alone.
Interramal tufts typically grow from moles underneath the chin. These give your dog a picture of what’s beneath their head, an area that they can’t easily see with their eyes.
Supraorbital whiskers are located above the eye. They can easily be mistaken for eyebrows. They help detect potential dangers to your dog’s eyes. Your dog can then move its head or close its eyes, avoiding injury.
How Do Dogs Lose Their Whiskers?
The ideal way for your dog to lose their whiskers is naturally through shedding. Your dog will shed whiskers throughout the year, allowing them to regrow, just like their coat. However, this typically occurs one whisker at a time. Your dog still has plenty of functioning whiskers while it grows back.
Dogs can also lose their whiskers to well-meaning pet parents or children. A child’s natural curiosity makes them likely to pull on a dog, including their whiskers. A dog owner may remove whiskers to improve the aesthetic appearance or because the whiskers catch food. They may assume the whiskers are bothering their dog, and want to remedy the situation.
Dogs can also lose whiskers in a fight, or even rough play. If they get caught in an object, they can easily be pulled out. They can also be broken, leaving the root and part of the whisker.
Whiskers and Emotional Expression
It might be surprising to know that dogs also use their whiskers to express emotion. Humans use their eyebrows in a similar way. If you are surprised, your eyebrows will be raised. If you are angry, your eyebrows will pull down.
Your dog will raise the whiskers above their eyes when they are happy or excited. When they feel threatened, the whiskers on the muzzle will point towards the threat.
Whiskers and Protection
Your dog’s whiskers also offer them protection. The whiskers around the eyes let your dog know if something is in danger of getting into their eyes.
The whiskers on the side of their face help them judge distance and width. If your dog encounters a narrow opening, like a gap in a fence, it will use its whiskers. The whiskers will help them determine if they can fit, based on the sensory information they provide.
Whiskers and the Brain
Whiskers occupy a significant portion of your dog’s brain. In fact, touch sensors account for 40% of your dog’s brain. Each whisker your dog has is connected to a specific spot in their brain.
How long does it take for dog whiskers to grow back?
There’s no set time frame, mainly because there are no concrete studies on the subject. It’s known that your dog’s whiskers will grow back, but educated guesses are the best we can do for a timeframe.
The limited studies that were done on dog hair growth focus on coat hair. However, it can be inferred that a dog’s whiskers will have a similar rate of growth.
It takes between 6 weeks and 3 months to regrow a coat after it’s shaved. This largely depends on the dog breed and genetics.
The timeframe given is 4 months for the whiskers to grow back to their original length. However, if the root is damaged, the whisker may never grow back. This is rare. It can occur if your dog’s whisker is plucked out, or if the area is burned severely.
What happens if you cut off a dog’s whiskers?
If you cut off a dog’s whiskers, it will interfere with their senses. They will lose some of the sensory information they depend on to navigate their world.
Science is just beginning to understand the role whiskers play, so the complete effects are not currently understood. What is known is that dogs with no whiskers will adapt over time. You can think of it as similar to a person losing their sight or hearing.
For a time, they have great difficulty navigating the world. Eventually, they adapt and are able to live a full life. Dog’s whiskers don’t appear to be nearly as important as their sight, hearing, and sense of smell, but they are a sensory organ.
Why Do Dog’s Whiskers Get Cut?
Some groomers will trim a dog’s whiskers for convenience or aesthetic purposes. Trimming the whiskers gives a neater appearance. In fact, many types of show dogs are required to have their whiskers trimmed or shaved. It’s difficult to trim the hair around the whiskers while still maintaining their length, so many groomers will simply trim or shave the whiskers.
Does it hurt when a dog loses a whisker?
It doesn’t hurt physically when a dog loses a whisker, unless it is pulled out by the root. Think of your own hair. Getting a haircut isn’t painful. However, having your eyebrows plucked causes some pain.
Because the root of whiskers is deep, it is painful to have one plucked out. It can also cause bleeding. However, if the whisker falls out naturally, it shouldn’t cause any pain.
Is it okay to cut a dog’s whiskers?
Some sources say that cutting a dog’s whiskers can cause a significant loss of its navigational ability. Some owners say that their dog struggles to navigate without whiskers. However, most pet owners who have their dog’s whiskers trimmed report no difference in behavior or their dog’s ability to navigate their surroundings.
Reasons to Cut Your Dog’s Whiskers
There are some reasons to consider cutting your dog’s whiskers. Some long-haired breeds can get food trapped in their whiskers and hair. Hairy-faced breeds like poodles will also struggle to keep their face clean.
This is more than an aesthetic issue. Food will quickly grow bacteria. This bacteria can cause your dog to smell, and it can lead to infection.
Some show dogs have their whiskers cut to meet show regulations, so this is also a consideration. However, regulations are changing. Some now prohibit dog’s whiskers from being trimmed, as the practice is now losing popularity.
Is it Cruel to Cut Your Dog’s Whiskers?
This is still a matter of debate, and it can get quite heated. Proponents of whisker trimming believe that it causes no harm. They believe that only dogs that spend a lot of time working in conditions with low visibility really need whiskers.
On the other side are those who say cutting your dog’s whiskers is cruel. They cite scientific evidence explaining the ways your dog uses their whiskers. They also mention anecdotal evidence of pet owners. These owners say their dogs lost confidence and navigational ability. Some owners say their dogs stumble or run into things frequently without their whiskers.
Should You Cut Your Dog’s Whiskers?
Unless you have a specific reason for cutting your dog’s whiskers, you shouldn’t cut them. Some experts recommend not cutting your dog’s whiskers without veterinary guidance.
Others recommend not cutting their whiskers unless there’s a grooming issue that needs to be addressed. When possible, the whiskers should be trimmed. Cutting them close to the skin or shaving them will impair their navigation abilities much more than simply trimming the length.