You’re cleaning your precious pup’s bed and you see a hair that appears to be somewhat thicker than the others. You pick it up and realize that it is actually one of your dog’s whiskers. Oh no! Now you’re left wondering, do whiskers grow back?
The short answer is yes, they do grow back, but the process is actually more complicated than that. Let’s take a look at what whiskers are and what they do for dogs, what it takes to grow whiskers, and what you can do as a responsible pet owner to promote healthy whisker growth.
What Are Dog Whiskers?
The simple answer to this question is that whiskers are a type of hair… kind of. All dog hairs are made of keratin (a protein) and dead skin cells. These are actually the same materials that make up human hair as well as the hair of many other mammals. They grow from things called follicles, which are located in the inner layer of skin cells.
But whiskers differ from regular dog hairs in important ways. As is easily observable, whiskers are thicker and coarser than normal hairs, and they stand out straight rather than lie flat. They also grow only on strategic parts of a dog’s body, such as their snouts, under their mouths, and above their eyes. Whiskers also have much deeper roots than regular dog hairs.
Another big difference between a dog’s whiskers and its regular hair is that whiskers have far more sensitive follicles with lots of blood vessels and nerve endings. This is what makes them so useful.
Whiskers are some of the first types of dog hairs to grow. Newborn puppies already have little whiskers on their face. In the next section, we will discover why that is.
Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?
Here’s a hint: it isn’t just because they’re cute. Whiskers actually perform some crucial functions.
We already mentioned that whiskers have deeper and more sensitive roots than regular hairs, and therein lies their purpose. Just as fingers help us feel things, whiskers help dogs feel their environment too. Perhaps you have tried touching your dog’s whiskers or accidentally brushed up against them. If so, you probably noticed that Fido responds much more quickly and dramatically to contact with their whiskers than anywhere else on their body, and for good reason.
Canines are not known for having the best eyesight. While they can see more colors than just black and white (contrary to popular belief), their sense of sight is not nearly as developed as their senses of hearing and smell, and that is the main reason why they have whiskers in the first place. Whiskers accentuate their sense of sight by allowing them to feel things that are very close to them, as most dogs see things that are far away better than they see them up close.
Whiskers are vital to a dog’s early survival. As small puppies, dogs use their whiskers to feel for their mother and find her nipples to eat. Since their eyes are not fully developed when they are born, this is a crucially important feature.
Whiskers can also pick up vibrations in the air, and are therefore useful for “seeing” in the dark. Your dog may use its whiskers to find its bed (or you!) during the night. In the wild, dogs use whiskers to hunt nocturnally.
Finally, whiskers protect your precious pup. The whiskers above their eyes can prevent small objects such as hair, dust, or bugs from entering their eyes (remember, they don’t have fingers as we do to dig something out). They alert dogs to dangerous items in their immediate paths as well, since they do not see well close up.
If you want to see your pup’s whiskers in action, try playing fetch with one of their favorite toys. If you watch closely, you will notice that their eyes guide them up to the toy but they use the whiskers on their face to find the exact location and grasp the toy with their mouth. Sometimes when we assume that a dog is smelling something, what it is actually doing is feeling the foreign object with its whiskers.
Another way to see whiskers doing their job is to simply observe your dog while it is engaged in various activities. You will notice that when it is alert, its whiskers stand straight out. Take a look the next time you’re playing with your dog, you’re out on a walk together, or when your dog is barking at the mailman. In contrast, when it sleeps or is relaxed, the whiskers lay flatter against their heads.
But Do They Grow Back?
Yes, since dog whiskers are a type of hair, they do grow back. They grow from the same follicles that they fell from as well, so they also regenerate.
That said, regrowing whiskers is not a quick process. It takes a dog about sixteen weeks to regrow a whisker. To put that amount of time in perspective, if your dog lives twelve years, it takes them about 3% of their total lifespan to grow a whisker. That’s a lot!
Since they are so useful (not to mention an adorable feature), fostering healthy hair growth is an important responsibility of all pet owners. Let’s take a look at what you can do to help.
What You Can Do to Promote Healthy Whisker Growth in Your Dog?
Promoting good whisker growth is fairly similar to promoting good hair growth in your dog, and both are important. First, leave those whiskers alone! Never pull out a whisker even if it appears damaged. Avoid doing anything to the whiskers when you groom your dog. When you pet your dog, be sure to stroke their whiskers with the grain of their hair growth or do not touch them at all. Allow them to stand up or lie flat naturally.
There is no more important thing that pet parents can do for their dogs’ hair and whiskers than to feed them good, healthy food. Talk to your veterinarian about the best foods for your dog. They will take into consideration your dog’s breed, health history, and size.
Hydration is also important for healthy skin. Healthy skin helps the body hang onto hair and prolongs its life. Good hydration also ensures that the cells that will compose the hairs and whiskers are in good shape. Make sure that your dog has easy access to clean water. Change the water in their bowl daily and keep the bowl in the same place in your house so they know where to find it. When you’re out and about with your pup, carry a portable water bowl and big bottle of fresh water for them.
If your dog’s skin is naturally on the dry side or if you live in a dry climate, you may need to add supplements to their diet to promote healthy skin, hair, and whiskers. Some dog owners swear by apple cider vinegar. Different oils work well with different breeds, but check with your veterinarian before adding supplements. Alternatively, running a humidifier at night in the room where your dog sleeps might be enough to do the trick.
We all want the absolute best for our dogs, and in order to give it to them, we have to really understand how their bodies work. Now you know how important whiskers are and how we can protect this useful and adorable feature on Fido.