Movember may be about hoomans but it prompted us to ask: Why do dogs have whiskers?
I’ve always said that little Poppy grows a smarter moustache than Michael and I, so we decided to embrace Movember wholeheartedly — though I’m not sure if it was Poppy or me who was more proud of their facial hair as they sat for their photoshoot…
Movember is all about raising much needed awareness of male health through growing a moustache. And if there is one thing schnauzers are famed for are their brilliant facial hair (schnauzer/ (German: translation “snouter” or moustache!). Poppy is very proud of her wily whiskers, she’s a breed with lots of visible facial fur with whiskers sprouting from her muzzle, upper lip, chin and eyebrows. But while I was twiddling her beard and moustache it got me thinking: if you snip a cat’s whiskers they’she’ll end up banging into a wall, but what happens when you trim a dogs?
A google search revealed that a dog’s whiskers are the first hairs to develop on their tiny bodies and contain rich, sensitive touch neurons at the root which directly communicates with a dog’s brain. They are also more coarser and more sensitive if pulled. But how important are they?
Poppy requires a trim every 6 to 8 weeks but I didn’t realise how much I was compromising her ability to feel with her face (another one of those eureka moments — same when I realised I should stop feeding dry over raw!). Over the last 9 years she’s got used to having a trim, so in turn has adjusted her sensory perception. But the grooming may have lead to confusion while she adjusted. At the next trim I am going to ask our wonderful groomer to be extra careful around her coarse hairs (thankfully they grow back like any other hair) and let Poppy be as natural as possible (just like our award winning raw dog food — plug to Poppy’s Picnic — ahem!)
Did you know that those whiskers vibrate and stimulate nerves in the hair follicle? Nor did I. Brushing up to a wall or object causes them to twitch (to vibrissae derived from the Latin word of vibrio) and feed back important information on the surroundings.
This extra sensory information is invaluable for detecting even the slightest change in air currents, the proximity of walls in the dark or helping visually impaired dogs to see.
You may have seen with your own dogs when they’re happy and relaxed, their whiskers are pushed back and stay close to the face. It’s a totally different story when they feel threatened — they flare forwards and outwards. Some experts say this is a defence tactic with potential predators or other dogs.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for the trimmed whisker. Long whiskers can cause irritation such as growing so long and curling into a dog’s eye, so a slight trim sorts out the little nuisance.
So the next time you are at the groomers, have a look at those lovely coarse hairs, give them a twiddle and embrace millions of years of evolution!
Dylan and Poppy x