What are dog whiskers for?

Present in many terrestrial and marine mammals, “whiskers” or vibrissae play an important role for dogs, cats, rats, but also seals or whales. This particular hair is a true receiver capable of informing the dog about its environment or about its own position in its environment. When we know that in the dog’s brain, 40% of tactile information is focused on its upper jaw, we quickly understand that “dog whiskers” are not hairs like others.

Hair like no other

Even on the lips, cheeks, muzzle, chin, beard – commonly known as “dog whiskers” – are special hairs for our four-legged friend. While the hairs that make up the coat protect them from the cold and, for some breeds, from the heat, the vibrissae are sensory organs essential to its survival. 4 to 5 times longer than a hair, they are made up of keratin. They are thicker, harder and also moveable. Very receptive to vibrations and pressure, these specialized hairs in the sensory functions of many mammals and even birds, consist of a root and a bulb. In this hair bulb there are mechanical receptors. Another peculiarity of the vibrissa is that it is composed of muscle fibers that contract and allow it to move. Whiskers are also present above your dog’s eyes.

The role of whiskers for your canine companion

Unlike the cat, the dog does not have vibrissae under its pads, the latter being important in an animal with poor eyesight: it is nearsighted. Thus they compensate for the poorly developed sense of our four-legged friend. Although the sense of smell is very strong in dogs, it is not enough to hold its space, hunt and find its way. Therefore, whiskers perform several sensory functions:

Proprioception and Orientation

Proprioception is our awareness of our own body in space. The dog also needs this feeling to evolve in nature. So he knows if there are obstacles in his way, if he can pass under a fence, in a thicket, in a very attractive cave that brings him a delicious scent. Its whiskers guide it day and night, to move around and to find what surrounds it. In addition, its vibrissae tell it where you are in the room, who you are with. They also tell him where an animal is, be it mate or prey.

Motion detection

An incredible sensory organ, these stiff and long hairs pick up vibrations, tremors, air currents. While our eyes can see movement more easily if everything around is still, the dog picks up the flapping of the wings of a fly. The sensitivity of its vibrissae allows the animal to anticipate movements more quickly. The dog may sense danger or your hand approaching his neck faster than you can perform your action. Dexterity and good reflexes in the game come from the extreme sensitivity of this sensory organ.

Understanding shapes and textures

If we lose the ability, as adults, to recognize the texture and shape of an object by putting it in the mouth as we did when we were babies, in the dog, the vibrissae ensure this function throughout its life. When your dog sniffs a track, it’s not just his sense of smell that goes into action, but his whiskers as well. When a dog suffers total or partial blindness, the vibrissae allow him to understand his surroundings and thrive in complete safety in a known place.

Estimation of distances

Another advantage that makes our dogs the champions of the game or the hunt, the vibrissae indicate to the animal if the object is approaching or moving away. As we have seen above, the detection of vibrations, along with its developed sense of smell allows our canines to be unparalleled trackers.

Did you know ? The hairs found at the level of our anterior nostrils are also called vibrissae. Stricter, they provide the first protective barrier to our respiratory system against dust, allergens and bacteria.

The dog’s beard, a safety radar?

Like our eyebrows, the whiskers above your dog’s eyes serve to protect him from dust and dirt. Unlike us who blink when we see danger approaching, his vibrissae give him a warning and cause him to blink.

Whiskers, a special sense of touch that must be nurtured

A dog’s whiskers alone represent 40% of the tactile information it receives. Pads, nose and skin do not have such developed parts in our pet’s brain. Therefore, this sensory organ should not be torn. It is thanks to the whiskers that the dog orients itself and sees objects, people and dangers around it. Cutting his whiskers means removing a sense that is essential to his balance, because he will experience, until they grow, difficulty in judging distances and detecting movements. It may happen that you find, on your sofa or in its basket, some vibrissae. Like its coat, the vibrissae are renewed. However, if you notice a significant loss accompanied by a change in your dog’s attitude, it is best to consult your veterinarian to make sure that an infection is not responsible for the loss of his vibrissae.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *