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  • Molly Weinfurter

Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?

Updated: May 27

It’s obvious that cats have whiskers, but with dogs, you have to look closely. Dog whiskers stick out slightly from the dog’s face and they have a thicker texture than the rest of their hair. However, people often pay no attention to dog whiskers or even forget they’re there. So, why do dogs have whiskers, and what is their purpose?


Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?

Whiskers are a few coarse hairs that appear around the dog’s eyes and mouth. Specifically, you’ll find them on your dog’s muzzle, chin, eyebrows, and cheeks. They’re some of the first hairs that appear on newborn puppies, and they’re more sensitive than regular hair or fur. 


The technical name for dog whiskers is vibrissae, defined as “organs of touch.” All dogs have whiskers, but they can vary in length. They may change in color and size as a dog ages, but dogs always have them because they use them to feel objects close to them so they can tell when something is near their face.


Whiskers are the easiest to see on dogs with short fur. My fluffy little rescue dog's whiskers blend into her hair because it's so long, but her whiskers are still there. Her face sometimes twitches if my hand brushes past her whiskers, so I avoid touching her whiskers since they can be sensitive.


dog mouth and whiskers

What are Dog Whiskers for?

Whiskers can help guide dogs through daily activities. They’re stimulated whenever something brushes against them, alerting a dog when something is close to their eye or mouth. By knowing that information, dogs can act accordingly to protect their face.


Dog whiskers are also beneficial to specific situations, such as swimming, hunting, and nursing. When swimming, dogs can tell where the water line is based on how their whiskers feel. For hunting, whiskers can help dogs sense prey, especially when it’s dark out. As newborns, dogs don’t open their eyes until they’re about two weeks old, so whiskers can help them move around and figure out where to get milk from.


In some cases, whiskers could be a form of expression for dogs. Flattened whiskers could indicate that a dog is relaxed while anxious dogs may have whiskers that stick up. Of course, you should also pay attention to the rest of your dog’s body language to determine how they’re feeling.


Dog Whiskers vs. Cat Whiskers

Even though cat whiskers are much more pronounced, they work the same as dog whiskers. Cat whiskers help cats balance, detect food or prey, and move around in low-light settings. Cats also have whiskers on the backs of their legs to help them climb, which is a feature dogs don’t have.


Can You Cut a Dog’s Whiskers?

No, you shouldn’t trim your dog’s whiskers. If you cut a dog’s whiskers, they may move slower at night because it’s harder for them to sense their surroundings. Whiskers may look crazy at times, but leaving them on your dog is safer.


Dog groomers who trim dog hair may also trim whiskers to create a smoother look. While trimming a dog’s whiskers won’t hurt them, it should be avoided whenever possible, which is why groomers are cautious when trimming around your dog’s face. 


If your groomer normally cuts your dog’s whiskers, don’t be afraid to ask them to stop. However, keeping the whiskers long may result in the groomer having to keep the face hair longer than normal too.


dog sniffing with whiskers

Do Dog Whiskers Grow Back?

Luckily, if your dog’s whiskers accidentally get trimmed, they can grow back. It will take a few weeks for a dog whisker to grow back to its normal length.


Like the rest of your dog’s coat, whiskers occasionally fall out and shed. This only happens occasionally, and a new whisker will grow back in the old whisker’s place. 


However, if whiskers are brittle and falling out frequently, it could be a sign of poor nutrition, aging, or an underlying health concern. Visit your vet if you’re worried about the condition of your dog’s whiskers.


Common Dog Whisker Concerns

Issues with dog whiskers are rare but not impossible. If your dog’s whiskers have a sudden change in appearance or seem to be bothering your dog, talk to a vet.


Dog Ingrown Whisker

In rare cases, dogs can get ingrown whiskers. They’re simply a result of the hair not growing properly, but they’re more common in dogs who have had their whiskers shaved. Since whiskers are much thicker than regular hair, ingrown whiskers can be painful for dogs.


Pulling out an ingrown dog whisker could do more harm than good, causing pain and bleeding to your dog. Keep an eye on the ingrown whisker to see if it grows on its own. If it isn’t growing and seems to hurt your dog when touched, talk to a vet or groomer to find out the best treatment method.


Dog Infected Whisker

Dog whiskers can become infected, especially if they’re damaged or ingrown. They could also develop folliculitis, an inflammation of one or more hair follicles.


If you notice red skin, puffiness, discharge, or any other unusual symptoms near your dog’s whisker, seek medical help just to be safe. Your vet can prescribe you something to treat your dog's inflamed or infected whiskers.


Pug mix whiskers

Frequently Asked Questions


Do All Dogs Have Whiskers?

Yes, all dogs have whiskers, even hairless breeds. Dog whiskers are typically found on the muzzle, cheeks, chin, and eyebrows.


How Many Whiskers Do Dogs Have?

The number of whiskers a dog has can vary. Dogs typically have about 20 whiskers on each side of their face, but it’s okay if your dog has more or less.


Do Dog Whiskers Fall Out?

Yes, dog whiskers can occasionally fall out just like their fur sheds. However, if your dog’s whiskers fall out frequently, it could signify a health concern.


Are Dog Whiskers Sensitive?

Yes, dog whiskers are sensitive, similar to the sensitivity of a human fingertip. So, dogs feel the world with their whiskers the way we feel things with our fingers.


When Do Dog Whiskers Turn Gray?

Dog whiskers and muzzles usually start to turn gray when a dog is between seven and ten years old. However, the size, breed, and color of the dog can affect when they turn gray and how visible their gray hairs are.


Can Dog Whiskers Get Split Ends?

Yes, dogs can sometimes get split ends on their whiskers. If they have no other unusual symptoms, then it’s not a cause for concern.


Dog nose close up

Dogs Have Special Whiskers

Even though dog whiskers don’t stand out as much as cat whiskers, they’re still an essential body part. Whiskers can help dogs navigate the world around them, protect their faces from hazards, and express themselves. So, avoid cutting or touching dog whiskers because they’re sensitive and important.

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