Whiskers: Not just a cat thing

Ever consider your dog’s whiskers?

Like cats, they all have them. But while all cats have the same number, a dog’s total depends on the breed.

As I explored in a previous column, whiskers are an important part of our cat Pip’s sensory perceptual experience. Well, it’s the same with Teddy, our Lab.

Teddy’s whiskers — like the rest of his fur — are made of keratin, the same gristly protein that our hair and nails are made of. His whiskers differ from the rest of his fur because of their tapered tip, thickness and flexibility, veterinarian Leslie Gillette writes at petmed.com.

Look at your dog and you’ll see whiskers above the eyes, on the cheeks, muzzle and chin. As Gillette explains:

“Whiskers that grow above a dog’s eyes are called supraciliary or supraorbital. Whiskers on a dog’s cheeks are called genal. Muzzle whiskers, which are typically the most abundant, are called mystacial (derived from the Greek root word for mustache). Dogs may also have a cluster of whiskers called an interramal tuft that grow from a mole under their chin.”

Teddy’s whiskers differ in information collection depending on where they are located. I focused on his muzzle whiskers, specifically looking for comparisons and contrasts to Pip’s. Since they both watch to see if one is getting more treats or attention than the other, did their muzzle whiskers give either one of them an advantage?

Teddy’s muzzle whiskers expand as he approaches an object. This gives him the ability to maneuver around an object in his path by helping him determine its shape, proximity and texture. Pip has the same ability.

When my husband Ed yells “Who wants to go outside!” both animals fly through the house. It’s quite the show. They avoid objects big and small, from the coffee table and the kitchen chairs to their toys. Even when they are coming from different directions, they don’t run into each other while storming toward the sunroom door.

Teddy’s muzzle whiskers also help him hunt for food and water, just as Pip’s do. Their whiskers acting as tracking guides, both move their heads back and forth as they search for their kibble that didn’t make it into their bowls. Pip’s whiskers help him hunt for field mice on his walks while Teddy’s whiskers help him find the newest and freshest grass to nibble.

Canines, like felines, use their whiskers to communicate through their emotions. According to vets Ryan Llere and Lynn Buzhardt at vcahospitals.com, a happy or curious dog will elevate the whiskers above his eyes, giving him that cute, wide‑eyed look humans love.

Teddy’s sweet expression, his eyes big and round, appears when he’s getting belly rubs, treats or positive attention of any kind, inspiring “Awwws” and “You’re the cutest!” reactions from us. Same with Pip.

Credit the whiskers, which help dogs and cats “work the room.”


As with cats, regardless of what shape a dog’s whiskers are in, never trim or cut them. Trimming them will confuse and disorient the canine. Their whiskers do fall out naturally and grow back in two or three weeks.


Karin Spicer is a member of The Dog Writers Association of America. She lives with her family and two furry pets who inspire her. She can be reached at spicerkarin@gmail.com.

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