You probably already know that it's never a good idea to cut an animal's whiskers, but why? Not only would having their whiskers cut be uncomfortable for the animal, but it would hinder their ability to comfortably navigate through the world. In a nutshell, whiskers are to an animal what sonar is to a submarine.
They're Built-in Sensory Mechanisms
According to Dr. Marty Becker of VetStreet.com, you should never cut or pull out whiskers because of the discomfort it may cause your pet. Perhaps more importantly, whiskers are known as "tactile" or vibrissae hairs. These thick, deeply embedded hairs, found primarily on the muzzle and forehead of an animal, have a highly sensitive organ at the root called a proprioceptor. This organ helps the animal gauge his surroundings, sense touch and even detect the slightest movement of air.
They're Navigational Tools
Whiskers allow your pet to easily judge his distance from objects, especially in darkness or dim light. Dogs whose whiskers have been cut may move more slowly to avoid bumping into objects. Older dogs with failing vision may have an especially difficult time maneuvering their environment without whiskers.
They're Spacial Guides
Whiskers are an adorable animal feature, but they don't just look cute. They serve as spacial guides, enabling animals to judge whether or not they can pass safely through openings. PetMD reports that they are so important to cats that, without them, they may become disoriented and frightened. Whisker removal may cause this normally confident, agile animal to misjudge the size of passages, leading to entrapment.
They're Best Left Alone
Cutting your pet's whiskers may not cause direct physical pain but it can be harmful by preventing him from successfully maneuvering his surroundings and avoiding injury. According to a Psychology Today Canine Corner article, removing vibrissae is both uncomfortable and stressful for dogs, and it reduces their ability to perceive clearly their close surroundings. Your pet's whiskers are best left untouched.
By Bridget Cipollini
VetStreet.com: How Dog and Cat Whiskers Work
PetMD.com: Why Do Cats Have Whiskers?
AnimalPlanet.com: General Cat Care Tips: Why Do Cats Have Whiskers?
PsychologyToday.com: Canine Corner – The Human-Animal Bond: Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers? Not Merely Cosmetic, Dog's Whiskers Help Them Navigate Their World
About the Author
A metropolitan Washington, D.C. resident, Bridget Cipollini has been writing professionally for more than 15 years. She received a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1986. She is a passionate advocate for animals and has volunteered for pet rescue and adoption organizations.