Don’t you just love when your dog’s or cat’s whiskers brush up against your face in the morning as a gentle signal to wake up? How about when you are standing, talking to a friend and your pet gently puts he nuzzles in your hand and you feel the whiskies tickle? Love it!!!
Whiskers are a lot more important than cute and tickly. Below are some facts and the links with interesting detail about the little antennas.
Some whisker facts…
- Although it’s often called “tactile hair,” the whisker itself cannot feel anything. Instead, objects that brush up against a whisker cause it to vibrate, which then stimulates the nerves in the hair follicle. This explains why the scientific name for whiskers is vibrissae, which derives from the Latin word, vibrio, meaning “to vibrate.”
- Most cats have 12 whiskers that are arranged in four rows on either cheek, but the whisker pattern in dogs is more varied. Whiskers can also sprout above the eyes, as well as under the chin. Cats can also grow whiskers behind their wrists.
- Cats use their facial whiskers to determine if they can fit into narrow spaces, and the whiskers on their legs may aid them in sensing prey or climbing trees.
- Dogs bred to go to ground need to know if a hole is big enough for them to crawl through. These receptors also give him information about obstacles that may be in the way and they also send information about the shape and size of a critter hiding in a den.
Despite the apparent advantages of having whiskers, many pet owners — particularly those who “show” their dogs — opt to pluck trim or surgically remove these vital sensory tools. Anecdotal evidence suggests that tampering with a dog’s whiskers can lead to confusion and decreased spatial awareness.
The importance of the whiskers is easier to understand when you consider the areas of the brain devoted to touch information. Almost 40% of those areas are dedicated to the regions where the whiskers are located. In fact, each individual whisker can be traced back to a specific location in the brain.
When a dog brushes his whiskers against dirt, tall grass or anything else, it causes him to blink his eyes and avoid injury. The whiskers above his eyes lets him know if he’s too close to something and helps to keep him from getting poked in the eye.
Want to learn more about whiskers?