It is normal for dogs to shed whiskers, just like any other hair on their body. If you find one every once in a while, don’t panic. It doesn’t harm your dog and they can live without one of their whiskers until it grows back.
Let me put your mind at ease. Yes, dogs shed whiskers. It is totally normal to find a whisker or two that has fallen from your dog’s muzzle.
Although it usually scares people because it happens less frequently than the shedding of normal hair (and there are fewer of them to lose), it’s nothing to stress over.
Now that you’ve calmed down and stopped fearing the worst for your dog, let’s talk more about whiskers. What are they, and why are they speckled across your dog’s face?
Everyone knows that cats have whiskers. Just think back to the last cat Halloween costume you saw. You’re not a proper cat without ears, a tail, and whiskers.
But they’re not the only animals that have them. In fact, many animals, including dogs, benefit from the existence of whiskers on and around their face.
What You'll Learn
Whiskers are a type of hair called “vibrissae,” originating from the Latin word for vibration. And that’s precisely what they do. Whiskers pick up minute vibrations from the environment to give animals more information about their surroundings.
Whiskers are more rigid than the hair in your dog’s coat, and they penetrate deeper into his skin. They’re also much thicker than a normal piece of hair.
Similar to any other hair, whiskers are shed and they grow back. As anyone with long hair knows, the longer the hair, the more likely it is to break. So not only can whiskers fall out naturally from the root, they can also break and leave a partial whisker on your floor.
Where Are They Found?
Dogs have whiskers on their muzzle, on their chin, and above the eyes. They are purposefully located to help dogs pick up more sensory information.
Similar to cats, dogs have several rows of whiskers around their mouth and nose. But dogs’ whiskers are more variable than cats’ and aren’t always arranged in neat rows or in predictable locations.
If you compare one dog’s set of whiskers to those of another dog, you’ll see that they can be completely different in their configuration.
While cats typically have 12 whiskers set in four rows on their upper lip, dogs might have as many as 20 whiskers on each side of their face, depending on the breed.
What Do They Do?
Whiskers are used for sensing. They work hand-in-hand with your dog’s vision, enhancing his understanding of the surroundings.
Since they are embedded deeper into the skin than normal hair, your dog can feel their movement through the nerves in his skin.
If the whiskers touch an object, they will move, and that slight vibration at the hair follicle will indicate to your dog that something is touching his whiskers.
This is important in the dark or in areas of low light where your dog might not be able to see his surroundings very well.
Whiskers can also be used for sensing air movement. This is important for hunting dogs trying to pick up on any slight movements indicating nearby prey. Judging the movement of air can tell your dog how big something is, how close it is, and how fast it’s moving.
Although cats use their whiskers to judge spacing and ensure that an opening is wide enough to fit their body, dogs don’t really do that. For many dogs, their whiskers don’t extend out as wide as their body.
The whiskers around your dog’s eyes can also help protect his vision. Typically, if anything touches these whiskers, it causes your dog to blink as a reflex.
This is an excellent way to block foreign objects from damaging the eyes. For example, if he’s running through an area with trees or brush, and a twig comes flying toward his face, the whiskers will warn him before the twig scratches his eye.
Is It Bad for Dogs to Shed Their Whiskers? Don’t They Need Them?
There are no nerves in the whisker itself. So, even though people might mistakenly think animals can “feel” with their whiskers, that’s not the case.
There are nerves in the skin around the root of the whisker, but the whisker itself cannot feel any pain.
It doesn’t hurt your dog to lose a whisker naturally. It is entirely normal for whiskers to fall out and be replaced by new ones.
Just think of your own hair. You lose a certain amount of hair each day, and as long as you let it go through the natural course, no harm is done.
That being said, never pluck out your dog’s whiskers. This can be very painful for them and cause bleeding. Even plucking out one of your own hairs is uncomfortable, but pulling one of your dog’s whiskers is much more intense.
Missing one whisker while a new one grows back in its place will not throw off your dog’s perception of his environment either.
There are enough whiskers to account for the one that’s fallen out. But just like you shouldn’t pluck your dog’s whiskers, you also shouldn’t ever trim them. This will significantly affect his ability to get around.
Again, like getting a haircut, trimming your dog’s whiskers won’t hurt, but the side effects could be disorienting.
When Should I Worry
If you notice your dog is frequently losing whiskers or seems to have lost several all at once, it could be a sign of illness.
Monitor your dog’s behavior and keep an eye on how many whiskers he’s losing. Every dog is different, so it’s hard to say exactly what’s normal, but if it seems out of the ordinary for your dog, talk to your vet.
Whiskers are more than just funny long hairs on your dog’s face. They serve a real purpose and aid your dog in navigating the world.
Whiskers give dogs vital information about their surroundings, like what might be close by or approaching them.
Dogs don’t have outstanding vision, so the extra sensory information they receive from their whiskers allows them to be more perceptive of the things around them and even take part in certain activities like hunting.
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