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Why do dogs have whiskers?

Close up shot of dog's face
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Chances are that at some point in your life you've asked 'why do dogs have whiskers'? Whether you've owned several dogs in your life, or been around friends' dogs, or just seen a picture of a canine companion, you've likely found it impossible not to notice the wiry hairs sprouting from their snouts. 

But what purpose do these spindly little hairs serve? Do you need to have the best dog grooming kit to handle these interesting hairs? Are dog whiskers similar to cat whiskers, which help with vision and sensory input?

Well, as it turns out, whiskers serve a number of very important purposes, from acting as radar sensors that help dogs to detect the objects around them to helping them to communicate their emotions. 

To help you better understand the vital role that whiskers play and whether or not you need to tend to them in any way, we've compiled the answers to all of your whisker-y questions below. Let's take a look....

Do dog whiskers have a purpose? 

Dog whiskers are in fact similar to cat whiskers in that they help transmit information. They're sensory equipment that act as literal extensions of your dog's eyes, helping them navigate their surroundings better by taking in even more information than their eyes can. In a way, they're like insects' antennae, but somehow so much less gross. 

There are different types of whiskers. Mystacial whiskers, which are long and extend on both sides of the snout are the most like a cat's whiskers in that they provide tactile info to your pup. Genal whiskers are the whiskers on your dog's cheeks, the widest part of their face. 

These help them determine how large a space is so they don't get their head trapped in it. Supraorbital whiskers are the ones right above a dog's eyes - these help protect them from incoming objects. And interramal tufts are the cute little whiskers under a dog's chin, which helps them sense objects below their head. 

Whiskers are technically "tactile hairs" but they don't have the necessary nerve endings to transmit any sort of feeling - they only transmit information, like when they detect movement or objects in a dog's peripheral vision. 

Wild dogs use their whisker to detect prey, their pack, or potential predators, while domesticated dogs use their whiskers to find their food bowls or their favorite toys. Whiskers help ensure dogs don't bump into things, or scratch their eyes, or get stuck in narrow places - in short whiskers serve many purposes!

Morkie

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Should you cut a dog's whiskers? 

No! Never cut a dog's whiskers. They are important sensory receptors and help your dog maneuver through the world, so cutting them could confuse them and may even result in them bumping into things. Unless there's a medical reason specified by your vet, there's no need to cut or trim your dog's whiskers.

While trimming your dog's whiskers won't hurt them, there is no reason to cut or trim them at all - and especially do not pluck them, as that could be irritating. Leave them alone unless your vet tells you otherwise (which is unlikely). 

Do dog whiskers grow back? 

Yes, but that doesn't mean you should clip them! If a whisker gets accidentally clipped your dog will likely adjust to life without it after a few days, and the whisker will grow back in as quickly as two weeks in some cases. If a whisker is plucked entirely however, it'll take even longer to grow back. 

Do dogs get whisker fatigue?

Whisker fatigue is a term commonly found in the online cat community after a 2017 article from the New York Times (opens in new tab) introduced it as a reason why your cat may be having eating issues. 

"Whisker fatigue is a fairly new diagnosis, one that many (but not all) veterinarians take seriously. When cats have to stick their faces into deep bowls and their whiskers rub up against the sides, the experience can be stressful, prompting them to paw the food onto the floor, fight with other cats or grow apprehensive at mealtimes."

As a result, some companies started advertising bowls as "whisker friendly." But, according to Andrew Roost at Pet Fusion, dogs don't have the same kind of whisker fatigue as cats - if it's even really a thing. After all, whisker fatigue isn't something commonly discussed amongst veterinarians. But if you're curious about it, we'd suggest asking an expert - specifically your dog's vet.