Though most people know that whiskers play an important role in a cat's well being, many don't realize that they're also important to dogs. So what happens, dog owners, if you discover a stray whisker on the floor? Through daily wear, injury or disease, dogs can in fact lose their whiskers and this is typically nothing to worry yourself over. Rest assured, they'll grow back. However, if you notice significant or complete whisker loss, this could be cause for concern, and a definite trip to the vet.
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Whiskers aren't just hairs; they're sensory organs that help guide your pets. Your dog's whiskers are kind of like antennae -- they help her see up close and in the dark, where her eyesight isn't as good. It's not the whisker itself that feels, but the nerves in the hair follicle, which is rooted much deeper than normal hairs. They function via vibration, which is why they're called vibrissae. A touch or even a soft wind is enough to trigger them. Incidentally, the long hairs on the top of your dog's eyes and sides of his face are also vibrissae.
Reasons for Whisker Loss
Whiskers splinter, break or fall out on a semi-regular basis, but -- barring a fight with another dog -- your canine friend will never lose all her whiskers at once unless something's wrong. One possibility is alopecia, the technical word for hair loss. It's a disorder that affects your dog's skin, endocrine and immune systems. It can be either gradual or acute and varies greatly in severity. One possible cause is mange, which is technically a mite infestation. Bacterial infections, ringworm and immune diseases are other possibilities. It's noteworthy that alopecia usually affects all hairs, not just vibrassae.
Discovering the cause of her alopecia is the first step to helping your dog regrow her hair and vibrassae. A host of pills, shots and topical treatments may be in order. Hair regrowth can be slow, and whisker regrowth can be even slower. Even after your dog's back to normal, check her regularly to catch recurrent or new problems as early as possible. Early detection and early treatment can save you and your dog a lot of stress.
When your dog loses her whiskers, she probably feels confused and discombobulated. These sensors are how she interacts with the world, so it's almost like how you'd feel after losing, say, your fingertips. As such, it's important to treat your dog gently if she lost a lot of whiskers at once. Also, never, ever trim your dog's whiskers. It provokes unnecessary stress. Yes, her whiskers will grow back, but the lack of stimuli can negatively affect her mood and disposition.
By Nicholas DeMarino
PetMD: Hair Loss in Dogs
Psychology Today: Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?
WebMD: Demodectic Mange in Dogs
Perfect Puppy Care: Dog Whiskers
VetStreet: What's the Deal With ... Whiskers?
Texas A&M University: Experts Agree -- Don't Trim Those Whiskers
Univerisity of Illinois Extension: Whiskers
About the Author
Nicholas DeMarino is a journalist and former newspaper associate editor and reporter. His work has appeared in "The Arizona Republic," "The Billings Gazette," "San Antonio Current" and in other publications. He holds a master's degree in journalism from the University of Oregon.