As a dog owner, you may, once in a while, find one of the longer and thicker whiskers from your dog’s face on the floor. People often have a wealth of questions about these whiskers and why they fall out, so today here at Leesville Animal Hospital, we are going to take a look at the topic!
Let’s begin by giving these “whiskers” their proper name. The thick whiskers that you see on the sides of your dog’s muzzle, above their eyes, on their chin and on their upper lip are scientifically named “vibrissae.” The word “vibrissae” comes from the Latin word “vibrio” which translates to mean “vibrate.” That is exactly the function of these thick, deeply rooted hairs – they are used to sense vibrations in the environment.
If you are a cat lover as well as a dog fan, then you will know that cat’s whiskers are arranged in a specific pattern of twelve whiskers in four rows on the side of the cat’s face. Unlike cats however, the number and arrangement of the whiskers on your dog’s face can vary.
So what sets these thick hairs apart from other hairs on your dog? Vibrissae are two times thicker than other hairs on your dog and they reach much deeper under your dog’s skin and are rich in nerves and blood vessels. As you might guess, this means that having one of these vibrissae plucked or pulled out can be very painful for your dog and can result in bleeding. Don’t do it! These nerves and this blood supply are what enable these thick hairs to sense movement of air in the environment or the presence of objects or items.
So what happens when your dog’s vibrissae sense a vibration? Well, the primary purpose of these thick whiskers is to supplement your dog’s vision (particularly in dimly lit environments,) so vibrations sensed are utilized to create a “picture” of the dog’s surroundings. This picture is composed by the interpretation of vibrations that are created as air moves around or against objects in the environment.
If you have ever wondered how your dog can see in the dark when you can’t, vibrissae are a large part of that ability!
So now that we know what they do, what happens if one of your dog’s vibrissae falls out? Once in a while these thick, deeply rooted hairs will fall out, but don’t worry because they will grow back! One of these hairs falling out is not going to throw your dog off balance for the rest of their life! But what you do need to know however, is that plucking, pulling, shaving, cutting or otherwise tampering with these hairs can impact your dog’s ability to maneuver around their environment. Not to mention that it can be very painful!