You may not have given a lot of thought to your dog’s whiskers. Many owners do not realize that the whiskers are more than just hair, they actually serve important purposes.
Does it hurt dogs if you cut their whiskers?
No, it doesn’t cause your dog any pain if you cut their whiskers. The whiskers themselves do not have pain receptors. This is similar to human hair. However, they do have important functions, and should not be removed.
Pulling on the whiskers, however, can cause your dog significant pain. You should never allow anyone to pluck or pull on your pooch’s whiskers.
What Are Whiskers?
Whiskers are a type of hair, but they are very different from the hair that make up your dog’s coat. Like other hairs, they grow from hair follicles. However, they are rooted 3 times deeper than regular hairs. This is why pulling on them can be painful for your pooch.
Whiskers are much more coarse than other hairs, and contain lots of blood vessels and nerves in the follicle. They are as sensitive as a human’s fingertips, and they are used in a similar way.
Where Are Whiskers Located?
They are located in four areas of the face. These include the eyebrow area, muzzle, jaw, and chin. The exact location and pattern of whiskers varies based on breed, and each dog has a slightly different pattern.
Why Dogs Have Whiskers
Dogs use touch just as humans do. In fact, 40% of the part of the brain devoted to touch is devoted to your dog’s whiskers. The whiskers function like little antennas, aiding your dog’s vision. The input from whiskers combines with visual input to give your pooch a view of the world around them. They also help with spatial awareness.
Dogs have good far away vision, but struggle to see objects close up. Their whiskers feel in the gaps of their near vision. Whiskers detect objects through touch. This can occur when the whiskers touch an object.
Most often, they detect changes in air currents instead. This allows them to know where objects are, before they run into them. Whiskers can determine the size and shape of an object, as well as how fast it is moving. Perhaps this is how dogs manage those daring near misses with cars.
Whiskers have other functions as well. They can alert wild dogs to predators, and lead them to their pack. They also help them hunt prey. Domesticated dogs can use them to help locate their food and toys.
Whiskers are particularly useful at night. Dogs can see much better than humans at night, because their eyes have more rods, which make use of available light. However, they cannot see when there’s very little light, or in complete darkness. This makes whiskers essential for nighttime navigation.
Protective Aspect of Whiskers
Whiskers also offer your dog protection. They are sensitive to vibration and the lightest touch. The whiskers above the eye can alert the dog to incoming dust particles, which can damage their eye. The dog will then close its eyes or shake it’s head to avoid or remove the particles.
The whiskers on the muzzle have a similar function. When walking in the wild, grass, small trees, and thorns pose a risk to your dog’s muzzle. When the whiskers sense these obstacles, they let the dog know to change his course or position to avoid them.
Lastly, they can keep your pooch from getting into sticky situations. Dogs will naturally explore small areas. In the wild, this includes gaps in rocks and animal burrows. A domestic dog may stick it’s head in boxes, or even behind the couch.
How do they know their head or body won’t get stuck in these small spaces? Their whiskers let them know how much space they have in relation to their head and body. This prevents them from getting stuck in areas that are too small.
You know your dog’s tail can convey their mood and emotions. You may also look at their ears for clues to how they are feeling. However, you may not be aware that their whiskers can also tell you about your dog’s emotional state.
When your dog is relaxed, their whiskers are in a neutral position. When they are afraid, the whiskers move back towards the face. They can even become close to the cheeks.
When your dog is alert, hunting, or playing, the whiskers are forward. They may seem to be pointing straight ahead. This is to gather more information about what’s going on around them.
The whiskers around the muzzle move the most. The whiskers on the jaw and eyebrows will also move, but not quite as much. The whiskers on the chin are the least mobile. They are nearly stationary.
Should I cut my dog’s whiskers?
No, you shouldn’t cut your dog’s whiskers unless there’s a good reason for doing so. They serve important functions for your dog, and should be left alone.
Reasons to Cut Your Dog’s Whiskers
There are times when cutting your dog’s whiskers is a reasonable option. Show dogs may need their whiskers cut to conform to the breed standards set by the AKC.
Dogs with long hair may need them trimmed simply because it’s nearly impossible to trim the hair on the face and avoiding the whiskers. In this case, the hair may reduce their quality of life more than trimming their whiskers.
Lastly, if your dog needs surgery on or near the face, the whiskers may need to be cut to do so. If this is the case, your pooch’s whiskers are probably the least of your concerns.
Invalid Reasons to Cut Your Dog’s Whiskers
Many sources will say that personal preference is a valid reason to cut your dog’s whiskers. I disagree with this. Why should your dog suffer for your preference?
Would you put them in high heels because you like the way it looks, and watch them stumble around uncomfortably? Do you find cropping a dog’s ears or tail simply to get “the look” cruel and unnecessary? If so, you shouldn’t cut your dog’s whiskers either.
Dogs don’t have their own voice. They depend on their beloved owners to be their advocate, and make the decisions that are best for them. This is a sacred trust. Owners have an obligation to act in the best interest of their dog, instead of their own.
What Happens if You Cut off a Dog’s Whiskers?
Cutting off your dog’s whiskers can be stressful for them and hinder their ability to navigate their world, at least temporarily. They will be more likely to run into things. They may have a harder time locating their food and water, if the hairs under their chin are removed. They will also struggle to determine how fast objects are moving. This can complicate a game of chase, and poses a risk if your dog is around cars or bicyclists.
Do dog whiskers grow back?
If you’ve had your dogs whiskers cut, only to learn they need them, you may be worried. Will they grow back? Will my dog be sensory deprived forever? The good news is, they do grow back.
The Life Cycle of Whiskers
Whiskers shed just like the rest of your dog’s hair. When they shed naturally, your dog will only lose one or two whiskers at a time. This leaves them with other whiskers to use to sense their world, while the lost whiskers grow back.
Cutting off all your dogs’ whiskers isn’t ideal, but they will grow back, just as they would if your dog lost them naturally.
How Long Does it Take Whiskers to Grow Back
It’s impossible to know exactly how long it will take your dog’s whiskers to grow back. It’s believed that they grow at the same rate as the rest of your pooch’s hair, but there have been few studies done on the rate of whisker growth itself.
It’s thought that how quickly they grow back depends on breed, age, health, and the individual dog. Two dogs of the same breed, age, and health status can grow hair and whiskers at very different rates, just as humans grow hair at different speeds.
The general guideline, however, is 16 weeks, or 4 months. If your dog’s whiskers are cut completely, they should return to their normal length within 16 weeks.
What if I accidentally cut my dog’s whiskers?
If you accidentally cut your dog’s whiskers, you shouldn’t worry. In many cases, only a few whiskers are accidentally cut. This still leaves your dog with whiskers to sense with.
It’s also important to note that a dog can live a full and happy life without whiskers. It is a sense organ for them. If they are lost, your dog will go through an adjustment period. Eventually, they learn to live without whiskers.
They may be disorientated for a few days, or even weeks. You may see them become slightly more anxious, because they are less aware of their surroundings. They may bump into things, particularly at night.
The whiskers will grow back, and your pooch will learn to navigate the world in the meantime.
Why do groomers cut dogs’ whiskers?
If dog whiskers are important, then why do groomers cut them?
Dog groomers have a set of standards that they go by, unless you specify otherwise. AKC standards require a dog’s whiskers to be cut, especially for certain breeds. In grooming school, groomers are taught to follow the AKC standards.
Unless you are planning on showing your dog, there’s no real reason to trim their whiskers. It’s simply part of the groomer’s training.
Another reason groomers cut dog whiskers is that it provides a clean look. This is likely the reason for the AKC standard in the first place. Groomers may fear that if they don’t shave the dog’s whiskers, the owner will think they did a poor job. Better to give the pooch the cleanest look possible, to make it clear the groomer performed their duties well.
What to Do About a Groomer Trimming Whiskers
There’s no reason to have your dog’s whiskers cut in most cases. Doing so can cause disorientation. If your dog has very long whiskers, you may wish to have them trimmed. However, it’s never a good idea to cut them off completely unless there’s a real need for it.
If you don’t want your dogs whiskers cut, you’ll simply need to tell the groomer when you bring your pooch in. They shouldn’t have an issue with not trimming them as long as they know your preference.