Just about every mammal has whiskers, and whiskers on a dog not only look cute, but serve important purposes. As with the rest of their fur, dogs shed and regrow their whiskers throughout life. Whiskers should never be cut, but they do grow back at varying rates.
Dogs occasionally shed a whisker here and there, and new ones will replace them. As with other fur on a dog's body, each whisker grows from an individual hair follicle. But dogs' whiskers are longer, more stiff and thicker than the rest of their fur. They're also rooted in the skin three times deeper than the rest of the fur, and the follicle of each whisker is flooded with blood vessels and nerve cells.
The Importance of Whiskers
Whiskers are not just stray hairs; they're like GPS systems for dogs. These navigational tools can sense touch and vibration, helping a dog distinguish objects, wind and sound immediately surrounding his head. This is useful in determining the size of any enclosure, including a prey's den or a small indoor enclosure. Whiskers also protect the dog's face; if dirt, a thorn or any other unwanted object touches his whiskers, he will blink, shielding his eyes.
Avoid Cutting Whiskers
Because they're so vital to a dog's life, whiskers shouldn't be cut. However if this happens by accident, a dog needs whiskers cut for surgery, or you notice a whisker or two has fallen out, it's reassuring to know they grow back. Hair growth rates vary by breed, but exact rates are not certain. In fact, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville College of Veterinary Medicine says very little information exists about dog hair growth rates.
NIH Study With Labradors
The National Institutes of Health's National Center for Biotechnology Information helped clarify dogs' hair regrowth rates with a study of 11 Labrador retrievers. They clipped the dogs' fur and watched to see how long it took to grow back. On average, it took 13.6 to 15.4 weeks to get back to pre-clipped length. Because so little information exists about precise regrowth rates, dog caretakers may anticipate that whiskers will grow back at the same rate as their fur.
- My Doggie Says: What You Should Know About Your Dog Whiskers
- Dog Health: Why Dogs Have Whiskers
- Vet Street: What's the Deal With ... Whiskers?
- University of Tennessee Knoxville College of Veterinary Medicine: What Do We Know About the Hair Cycle in Dogs?
- Pubmed: An Analysis of Canine Hair Regrowth After Clipping for a Surgical Procedure
Sarah Whitman's work has been featured in newspapers, magazines, websites and informational booklets. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in nutrition, and her projects feature nutrition and cooking, whole foods, supplements and organics. She also specializes in companion animal health, encouraging the use of whole foods, supplements and other holistic approaches to pet care.