To cut a dog's whiskers or not to cut them? This can be a dog owner's dilemma. Sure, those whiskers look cute, but some dog owners may be tempted to cut them because they want to attain a certain look. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana shares info on the function of a dog's whiskers and what can happen when you cut them.
A Closer Look at Dog Whiskers
There is more to dog whiskers than being merely cute. Simply put, as human beings, we perceive the world mostly through our eyes and we touch the world through our fingers. Dogs are slightly different. Dogs perceive the world mostly through their noses and feel the world through their whiskers.
What are whiskers? Whiskers, which are scientifically termed as vibrissae, are basically long and coarse hairs that serve as sensory tools. Dogs have whiskers on their muzzles, jaws, under the chin, and above the eyes.
The whiskers are a particular type of facial hair. Just like regular hairs, whiskers come out of follicles and go through the same life cycles – they basically shed and grow back.
However, unlike the regular hairs, the whiskers are thicker, stiffer, and embedded much deeper. The follicles are surrounded by many nerves that send sensory impulses to the brain, where they are processed and analyzed.
Types of Whiskers in Dogs
How many types of whiskers do dogs have? Based on their location on the face, dogs have five types of whiskers. Below are the five types of whiskers in dogs.
- Superciliary vibrissae, also known as supraorbital whiskers – these are the whiskers located above the dog's eyes.
- Mystacial vibrissae -these are the classical whiskers located on the dog's upper lips, resembling a moustache.
- Chin vibrissae, also known as "inter-ramal tuft," are the whiskers located under the dog's chin.
- Mandibular vibrissae – these are the whiskers located on the dog's lower jaw.
- Zygomatic vibrissae, also known as genal whiskers, these are the whiskers located on the dog's cheeks.
Do all dogs have whiskers? All dogs have whiskers. The difference is in their distribution density, length, and exact location. For example, some dogs have long chin whiskers, but have very little or no whiskers above the eyes. Others have lots of long whiskers above the eyes, but short and very few whiskers on the muzzle. Anyway, all dogs have whiskers, and that includes even the hairless dog breeds.
The Function of Dog Whiskers
Whiskers are ultimately a dog’s sixth sense. They play several important roles that we may not know of. However, there are suggestions that the whiskers have many other functions we still have not discovered. From what we know, these are the whisker’s purposes.
Dog Whiskers Register Air Currents
Your dog's whiskers are extremely sensitive to changes in the air currents. They provide the dog with information about nearby moving objects.
A dog can determine an object’s size, shape, and moving pace based on the air vibration the object produces as it travels. This is extremely useful when it comes to sensing danger in dark conditions.
Dog Whiskers Provide Spatial Orientation
A dog’s whiskers are proportional to his or her body. Therefore, just like many other small mammals, dogs can use their whiskers to determine whether they can fit through small openings.
Dog Whiskers Help with Food Location
The exact mechanism behind this role is not well-determined, but once again, it is believed that it has to do with a prey animals movement and vibrations. Many other mammals, such as walruses, rats, and seals, use their whiskers to locate prey.
Our modern dogs have their premium kibbles served in a food bowl, but the canine’s ancestor definitely used its whiskers to locate prey at some point during the canine history.
Dog Whiskers as Communication Tools
The whisker’s position can give a lot of information about the dog’s moods and emotions.
For example, when a dog is threatened, it flares its whiskers and positions them in the direction of the impending danger. On the flip side, when a dog is comfortable, its whiskers are more slack and relaxed.
Dog Whiskers Offer Protection
When a particle from the air comes close to the eye and touches the whiskers above the eyes (the supraorbital whiskers), the whisker sends information that there is an upcoming threat to the eye and the dog responds by turning away and blinking.
Can you Cut a Dog’s Whiskers?
If the question is “can you cut a dog’s whiskers” the answer is ultimately yes. The dog’s whiskers can be plucked with tweezers, trimmed with a hair clipper or surgically removed by removing their follicles. Many dog groomers routinely cut or pluck the whiskers simply because they appear sporadically or grow asymmetrically. Show dog parents do the same.
However, the right question is: “should you cut a dog’s whiskers?,” and in that case, the answer is absolutely not. As a special type of facial hair, the whiskers are a sensory organ and therefore aren't there just for decoration.
Anecdotal reports suggest that dogs with cut or removed whiskers show decreased spatial orientation and overall confusion. Without the whiskers, the dog’s ability to judge nearby objects and distances is compromised which ultimately affects his or her confidence.
Is it Painful to Cut a Dog's Whiskers?
Finally, it should be noted that trimming the whiskers is not painful. These hairs do not have pain receptors, and consequently, their trimming does not hurt just as it doesn't hurt people to shave
However, if plucked, as done with using tweezers, the dog will feel some level of discomfort, since plucking removes the whisker’s root which is embedded in a follicle and there are nerve endings around the follicle.
Indeed, when plucked, the area can bleed for some time. Applying gentle pressure to the area for 3 to 4 minutes with a clean soft cloth or paper towel should halt the bleeding. .
Do Dog Whiskers Grow Back?
Fortunately, the answer to this question is yes. If you adopted a dog with cut whiskers, do not worry, they will grow back after some time. Keep in mind that this applies for dogs with trimmed and plucked whiskers. A dog that had its whiskers surgically removed will not be able to grow them back.
Modern dogs do not rely on their whiskers as much as their ancestors and wild cousins. However, they still need and use their whiskers as a sensory organ.
Since there are no medical reasons that would justify whiskers removal, whether permanent or temporary, these procedures are classified as purely aesthetical and highly non-ethical.
Just like declawing, ear cropping, and tail docking, whiskers removal is an entirely unnecessary procedure. Although not as painful as the other cosmetic procedures, cutting a dog’s whiskers is inhumane and highly unadvisable.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.