Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?

Health & Wellbeing
June 19, 2024
Diana Bocco
Reviewed By: 
5 minute read

Have you ever wondered about the stiff hairs sprouting from your dog's face? They are whiskers, and they're far from ordinary fur. And understanding why dogs have whiskers shows us how nature smartly designed these sensitive hairs.

Positioned in strategic spots, including the cheeks, chin, and above the eyes, whiskers serve as critical sensory tools for dogs and play a crucial role in how our canine companions perceive their environment.

First things first, whiskers – known scientifically as vibrissae– are technically not hair.1 They are long and stiff filaments composed of keratin, the same protein found in hair, skin, and nails. Unlike regular hair, however, whiskers grow from distinct follicles located deeper within the skin. They are not only thicker but are also connected to a larger number of nerve endings, making them far more sensitive than typical fur.2 

Whiskers on Cheeks and Above Eyes 

The purpose of dog whiskers is truly versatile. Think of them as a tactile GPS, leading dogs on their daily adventures and sharpening their awareness of the environment. They combine sensitivity and functionality to help a dog explore and interact socially.

Whiskers can pick up on subtle changes in air currents and vibrations. This ability equips dogs with an acute sense of spatial awareness, allowing them to detect nearby objects or movements even without direct visual or auditory cues. For a dog maneuvering through thick underbrush or a dim room, whiskers on the cheeks act as navigational aids, preventing collisions and aiding in the hunt or play.

What about why dogs have whiskers above their eyes? This placement might seem odd, but it's all about protection. These over-the-eyes whiskers function as early warning sensors, triggering a blink reflex when objects come too close, safeguarding the eyes from potential harm. Whether it's a branch on a trail or a playful swipe from a fellow pet, these whiskers ensure quick protective responses to protect the cornea from potential damage. 

The Purpose of Dog Whiskers  

Whiskers are not just doggy decor. In addition to protecting the face and eyes, they also serve other purposes. Think of them as supercharged sensors that give dogs a kind of sixth sense, helping them feel their way through the world. This system enables dogs to receive detailed information about their environment, helping them detect even the slightest changes around them.

Sensory and Navigational Functions

Whiskers are packed with nerve endings that make them highly sensitive to touch and changes in air currents. This sensitivity enhances a dog's spatial awareness, providing essential tactile feedback about their surroundings.3

Whiskers act as an early warning system, shielding a dog's eyes and face by detecting dangers or obstacles before they make contact. When a whisker flicks an object or feels the brush of air displaced by moving objects, it sends signals to the dog's brain, helping to map out the space around them.4 This is especially beneficial in low-light conditions where vision is limited, allowing dogs to detect obstacles and navigate safely.

Finally, whiskers also act as a built-in measurement tool, helping dogs avoid tricky situations. Whether it's a tight gap in a fence, a narrow crevice among rocks, or a snug spot between living room chairs, whiskers give dogs a sense of whether they'll make it through without ending up stuck or causing household chaos.


Whiskers also play a subtle yet significant role in canine communication. If you pay attention, you might notice your dog's whiskers twitching during intense moments or spreading out when it is on high alert.5

For example, when a dog encounters a new or potentially threatening animal, its whiskers may stiffen and flare out. And during playtime, their whiskers might twitch rapidly due to excitement and concentration as they engage with their favorite toys. 

Not All Whiskers Are the Same

Variation in whisker length often correlates with breed characteristics and behaviors.6 For example, some dog breeds with long whiskers like the German Wirehaired Pointer, Schnauzer, and Scottish Terrier were specifically developed for hunting or working in dense cover and use their longer whiskers to help navigate through their environment. The connection between whisker length and breed characteristics is a good example of the evolutionary adaptation of dogs to their roles alongside humans.

Dogs with particularly long whiskers can sometimes suffer from whisker fatigue. It occurs when these tactile hairs are overstimulated, often by frequent contact with objects or surfaces, leading to sensory overload and stress. It can manifest as discomfort or disorientation, impacting their day-to-day comfort and exploration.

Can you trim dogs' whiskers above their eyes to help prevent whisker fatigue? The short answer is no.7 Whiskers play a crucial role in a dog’s sensory perception, acting as radar sensors that help them navigate their surroundings. Cutting them could not only dull this sensory input but also affect their emotional well-being. Imagine suddenly losing a sense you’ve relied on all your life—that’s how your dog might feel without its whiskers.

If you suspect your dog is suffering from whisker fatigue, take a look at your living space and see what changes you can make to prevent constant whisker contact. Also, choose toys and feeding bowls designed to minimize unnecessary whisker contact. Wide, shallow bowls are better than deep, narrow ones to prevent their whiskers from brushing against the sides with every bite or drink.

While trimming a dog's whiskers might seem like a harmless grooming choice, it's essential to weigh the potential impacts on their sensory capabilities and overall happiness.  


Whiskers are important tools for dogs’ sensory exploration and emotional communication. They are also essential for navigation and safety and play a critical role in a dog’s daily interactions with the environment.

Just as untrimmed whiskers support a dog’s sensory needs, Cola’s Kitchen's fresh, wholesome meals cater to their nutritional requirements. This commitment to overall wellness and holistic care ensures our dogs lead happy, healthy lives, fully equipped to explore the world around them.

about cola's precision diet

Cola's Kitchen precision diet is the first truly tailored diet for a unique approach to nutrition. Our diets are individually formulated and balanced to address the most precise nutritional requirements of your pup.

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