Dog Whiskers: 4 Common Questions

You've probably seen your dog's whiskers, which are coarse, stiff hairs that protrude from the fur on the nose or eyebrows if you share your home with a dog. If your dog is exhibiting emotion and expressing an interest in you, you might notice them more than usual. Why did dogs have whiskers, then? They play a critical role in the sensory system that helps dogs navigate around them.

What are dog whiskers?


Long, coarse hairs called whiskers, or vibrissae, are typically present on dogs' muzzles, jaws, and areas above their eyes. These whiskers are firmly attached to the skin, but the follicles at their base are teeming with neurons that transmit sensory information to the dog's brain. Dog whiskers are very delicate and have been compared to human fingertips in terms of sensitivity to touch, unlike other hairs in a dog's coat. Because of this, if you've ever touched your dog's whiskers, they may have reacted by blinking or quivering.

What are dog whiskers made of?


Whiskers differ from other types of hair in that they have a unique structure that explains their sensory function. Hair follicles, which are tiny pockets made up of cells and connections in your dog's skin, are where fur grows. The follicles that surround whiskers are noticeably larger and are densely packed with blood vessels or nerves. Sinus hairs get their name from this blood supply, which is known as a blood sinus. Even the slightest touch or pressure shift causes the whisker to convey that pressure through the blood sinus, whereupon it is magnified and sent to the brain via the sensory nerves. The system thus becomes extremely sensitive.

Additionally, the types of muscles that move whiskers vary. When your dog is terrified or startled, you may have noticed that the fur along the back stands up. Similar to those who get goosebumps, this is an uncontrollable response brought on by smooth muscle contractions beneath the skin. The type of muscle that is involved in voluntary motions, striated muscle, is not associated with whiskers. Dogs are able to control their whisker movements, adjusting their length as necessary.

Dogs' whiskers begin to grow very early throughout the embryonic stage and are the first hairs to show. As a result, in newborn puppies—who are blind for the initial ten days of life—whiskers may serve crucial roles in helping them locate their mother and nipples for nursing.

What causes a dog's whiskers?


Dogs' whiskers transmit sensory data to the brain, allowing them to better investigate their environment. Dogs depend on their whiskers because they don't have the best eyesight, especially when looking for little objects or anything close-up. The nerves that run near the base of a dog's whiskers are stimulated by any contact or air movement, sending important messages to the brain. Identifying objects and evaluating their form, shape, and speed are all done by your dog using its whiskers. They can even aid in night vision and determine whether they are able to pass through narrow openings.

The whiskers that surround a dog's eyes give additional protection because when a dog touches something, it usually causes them to blink, which keeps potentially harmful items like dirt from coming close to their eyes. Additionally, because the microscopic hairs are able to locate objects, they protect your dog's eyes from being poked by branches or twigs when they are out strolling.

The very first hairs to grow on a dog are their whiskers, which very early on aid in your dog's ability to navigate safely. All of this indicates that whiskers are crucial to your dog's existence since they aid in navigation and environmental knowledge, compensate for weak vision, and keep your dog secure.

Is it bad to remove dog whiskers?


In low light, dogs with removed vibrissae appear more unsure. Because they are not receiving the information they rely on to tell them where potential obstacles are located, they essentially move slower under these circumstances.

The dog really does not need to make physical contact with a surface in order to be aware of it if the vibrissae are in good condition. Due to their extreme sensitivity, these unique hairs can detect minute shifts in air currents. When a dog moves towards anything like a wall, a part of the air they stir up bounces back off the surfaces, slightly stretching the vibrissae.

The ensuing brain response is sufficient to alert them to the presence of anything even before they contact it. 

Tell them to leave the whiskers alone the next time you're going to the groomer.

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