Pets — 12 March 2013

Why do dogs have whiskers

Far from being a purely cosmetic feature, whiskers is a highly functional set of stiff hairs found on the sides of dogs’ muzzles, which lies embedded deeply into the skin. Each vibrissa has a high concentration of touch sensitive nerves at its base. Working as a device that detects anything near the face, whiskers helps dogs avoid any possible obstacles or objects in their way. Moreover, the protruded hairs protect dog’s face and eyes against damage from an approaching object.

When you tap on the whiskers, the dog’s eye on the same side of the face blinks and the dog takes evasive action by moving its head in the other direction. You might have seen dogs using whiskers for recognizing and locating objects. Whiskers allows dogs to know about the shape and roughness of surfaces near their heads.

Dog’s muzzles cause obstruction to his vision especially while looking at things near his mouth. So, to locate, identify and pick up objects near his mouth, dog relies on information gathered through his pointed whiskers. Therefore, dogs who have their whiskers amputated find it difficult to perceive their close surroundings fully in dim light. Under such a condition, they might bump into things that they cannot locate or recognize. On the other hand, dogs with intact whiskers can record and utilize slight changes in air currents to their benefit. When a dog approaches a wall or an object, he can sense the air bouncing back from surfaces. As the retrieved air makes whiskers bend slightly, dog gets a fair idea of an object within his reach.


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