Does the Cutting of a Dog's Whiskers Change Their Behavior?

by Nicholas DeMarino
"Please don't cut my whiskers."

"Please don't cut my whiskers."

Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

Your dog's whiskers aren't just normal hairs; they're sensory organs called vibrissae. These specialized hairs help dogs orient themselves, kind of like radar, for short distances and in low light. If you or your dog groomer cuts them, you can expect your dog's behavior to change.

Not Just Hairs

While they can't feel, per se, your dog's whiskers allow her to gauge distances. They're rooted much deeper than normal hairs, and when they vibrate they tell your dog the relative location of whatever manipulated them. They're kind of like feelers, like a bug's antennae, and respond to direct touch or even a breeze. If you want to test their sensitivity, gently tap them. Your dog will likely blink on whatever side of the head you tapped her whiskers on.

When They're Gone

The loss of whiskers isn't like general hair loss -- it's more traumatic. When you cut or trim your dog's whiskers, it disorients her. With less sensory information she may become shy, timid or meek, unsure of her movements and surroundings. Your dog may even become scared, which can lead to aggression or a short temper. Yowling or nipping are possible, especially if her whiskers are cut close to her face, where they're still sensitive, but now there's less whisker to reduce the intensity of stimuli.

Acute Problems

Your dog likely loses whiskers all the time. Daily wear can break or splinter a whisker or two, but that's substantially different than a full-on whisker cut or trim. Your dog's whiskers will grow back naturally, but there's going to be an adjustment period. It could take a week or two until your dog adjusts to the loss of her whiskers and she starts acting normal again. That's why it's important you never cut her whiskers in the first place.

To Trim or Not to Trim

The easiest way to avoid your dog acting strange after her whiskers are cut is simply not to cut them. It's purely a cosmetic grooming method that makes life uncomfortable for your canine friend. Sometimes whiskers twist or bend -- that's just what they do -- and it's best to leave them alone.

Photo Credits

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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.

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