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Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers

The sense of touch for human beings is generally associated with the fingers, besides other parts of the body covered with skin. While we use our hands and fingers to get a touch of the world, our furry friends use a different approach – through their faces.

What are whiskers and what are they for?

Besides dogs, many other mammals, including cats, also have whiskers. Whiskers, also called vibrissae, are long and firm hairs that grow from the skin on the dog’s muzzle, above the eyes (something like eyebrows) and the jaw. Many other mammals, including cats, also have whiskers. In structure, they are almost identical to the ‘normal hair’ (fur, fluff, you name it).  What’s different about the vibrissae is that their follicles have a bunch of neurons and nerves sending messages to the central nervous system (the brain).

Why do dogs have whiskers?

So it’s safe to say that dog whiskers are a form of receptors that send direct messages to the brain about the shape and size of objects and their speed (of course those objects that are nearby). Whiskers are highly sensitive to air current changes. Dogs most likely developed whiskers over time because their vision is not well-evolved and they need another mechanism to feel and observe objects for what they truly are. By being able to sense vibrations running through the air, dogs are also capable of knowing when danger approaches, thanks to their whiskers.

Some breeds of dogs use their vibrissae similarly to some smaller mammals in situations when they want to see if they can fit in narrow spaces or not. Scientists conducted few studies to determine whether dogs can locate food using their whiskers, but the answer remained doubtful. However, it’s highly likely that in some time in history, domestic and wild canines did use them for tracking food. As a matter of fact, seals, walruses, rats, and many other mammals still use their whiskers for this purpose.

What can whiskers reveal to us?

This special type of facial hair can reveal to us how the dog is feeling at the moment. For example, when a dog is feeling threatened by something or someone will frequently point and flare his whiskers in forward. Because of this fact, some scientists consider whiskers to be a part of the dog’s defense strategies when opposing other dogs and predators in combat.

There is no doubt that the whiskers offer dogs many advantages when dealing with the world that surrounds them. Unfortunately, many pet owners decide to pluck, trim and even surgically remove these sensory hairs from the dog. This is usually done for aesthetic reasons and dog shows. Some evidence suggests that dogs without whiskers will more often feel confused and become unaware of their surroundings.

How many whiskers does a dog have?

Dogs can have up to 20 whiskers on each side of their upper lips, depending on the size and breed of the dog. These whiskers, known as vibrissae, pick up shifts in airflow so that a dog can gather information about its surroundings.

What happens when you cut off a dog’s whiskers?

If you cut or trim your dog’s whiskers, it will disorient him. With this reduced sensory input of information your dog may become shy, meek, timid, or unsure of his surroundings and might move in a strange way. He may even become scared, which can cause aggression in his behavior or a short temper.

Even though the follicles of the whiskers are innervated, dogs don’t feel any pain when they are trimmed (usually for aesthetic reasons). However, it’s never a good idea to get rid of them because it can be disorienting for your dog. The good news is that once cut, they are still able to grow again and again.

Originally posted 2020-03-27 18:58:08. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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