happy golden retriever puppy

What are Whiskers, Anyway?

Reading Time: 3 MIN

You may think your pet’s whiskers are adorable or you may not really notice them. Either way, have you ever wondered why your cat or dog has whiskers on his face? They’re not just a fashion statement! Did you know that our pet’s whiskers can tell us about their health and mood? And robots even have whiskers these days? Read on to learn more interesting facts about whiskers.

What are Whiskers?

  • Technically hair, whiskers are also different than regular fur on a dog or cat.
  • Whiskers can grow from our pets’ eyebrows, their chin, and even on our cats’ legs.
  • Whiskers are deeply rooted in our pets’ skin in a hair follicle full of nerves and blood vessels.
  • When they brush against something, whiskers get to work, sending a vibration down their length to stimulate the nerve at their root.
  • Scientifically, whiskers are known as vibrissae, which comes from the Latin vibrio “to vibrate”.
  • Whiskers are tactile sensors for mammals. The tactile sense of the whiskers compliments the tactile sense of the skin.
  • Very sensitive, whiskers are able to detect the slightest change in a breeze.

Why are Whiskers Important?

A closeup of a white cat's face.

  • Similar to antennae, whiskers help our dogs and cats navigate space in the dark.
  • Whiskers help to protect the face by warning our pets if something is too close to their eyes.
  • Whiskers help dogs and cats decide if they can fit through a small, tight space or if they will get their head stuck instead.
  • Dogs and cats use their whiskers similarly to the way we use our fingertips, touching and feeling our environment and objects all day long.
  • Whiskers are very helpful for hunting purposes, especially when it’s dark.

What Can Whiskers Tell Us?

  • Unhealthy-looking whiskers, such as drooping, brittle, or split whiskers, can indicate poor health or a change in our pet’s health.
  • Cats and dogs can control and move their whiskers, depending on mood.
  • Cats may pin their whiskers back when they are angry and dogs may point their whiskers forward when they feel threatened or excited.

More Facts about Whiskers

A closeup of a beagle's face.

  • Researchers have begun creating artificial whiskers, for which one use is to improve the tactile sense of robots.
  • Whiskers can fall out and grow back at any time.
  • Whiskers can change color over time (usually, they will fall out one color and grow back in another color).
  • Cats usually have 12 whiskers on each cheek, but dog whiskers aren’t so consistent.
  • Dogs usually have fewer whiskers than cats, and don’t rely on them quite as much.
  • Whiskers should never be trimmed or plucked.
  • Damaged whiskers can affect a pet’s confidence and motor skills.

Whiskers are an interesting part of our pets’ functioning and health. So, don’t let a groomer trim your pet’s whiskers, but don’t be upset if they lose a whisker on occasion, either!

Do you have any stories to share about your pet’s whiskers? Let us know in the comment section below.

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