It has come to pass that the human race, English speakers specifically, have become flippant with their use of the word “whiskers”. The offense we are speaking of here is the common misconception that an unshaven face or errant hair growing from an otherwise smooth face is a “whisker” or “whiskers”. Oh, but this is not the case.
In reality, whiskers grow on many mammals, and they can be in odd locations. Well, let’s say locations that seem odd for those of us who have pigeonholed the whisker into being something only of the face. (Incidentally, pigeons do not have whiskers at all, nor are they mammals, of course.)
To the point, whiskers, or vibrissae, can be all over the face, or in the case of the manatee, all over the head and body. They can be quite prominent on some animals, such as large predatory cats, or they can be relatively short as with the walrus. The great apes, humans included, are the only existing mammals without whiskers (despite humans still laying some claim to having whiskers.)
All that established, now the basic premise on this discussion of whiskers is not who can rightly claim them but, more so, why they should never be cut or trimmed.
Source: BBC Ideas/Youtube
What Are Whiskers?
Vibrissae are, in fact, hair, but they are a special type of hair. They are usually longer, thicker, and stiffer than normal hair, so they stand out from whatever hair might be around them. They are often found in clusters above the eyes (supraorbital), on the cheeks (genal), on the upper lip (mystacial), and under the snout (mandibular).
But, this isn’t just some sort of style choice, such as a goatee or hipster beard. Whiskers have important functions. They use a tactile sense, much like skin, to help with navigation. This is particularly useful for nocturnal animals and animals that forage in muddy water.
Whiskers are so popular that some non-mammal animals have evolved to produce their own version. Several birds, such as whip-poor-wills and swallows, have developed “whiskers”. Famously, catfish have whiskers, but so do other fish like carp, goatfish, zebrafish, and certain sharks.
Source: BBC Earth/Youtube
Why You Shouldn’t Cut Animals Whiskers
By now, it should be more or less apparent why we humans shouldn’t be cutting our pets’, or any animal’s, whiskers. They aren’t just hair. They are part of an animal’s sensory perception, like a nose or eyes, or specifically, like our fingertips. Losing the ability to use these sensory devices is problematic for even a housecat or pet dog.
For many animals, whiskers are the primary sensory organs. Cats use them to judge distances. They use them to decipher which spaces they can fit into. They warn cats to shut their eyes or move their heads should something threaten them. Whiskers even detect changes in airflow to help with both hunting and survival, not to mention famously landing on their feet.
Horses with trimmed whiskers are more prone to eye injuries and mouth injuries because they are used as warnings to know when to blink or stop dunking into a water trough. Dogs use their whiskers similarly for spatial awareness and protection, as well as navigating. Dogs also use whiskers in body language with other dogs.
How to Deal with Whiskers
Ultimately, the best way to deal with whiskers on an animal is to leave them be. It’s only human aesthetics that have issues with whiskers being too long or unkempt. The fact of the matter is that an animal’s whiskers are as they are for good reason. When we meddle with them, we are putting animals at a disadvantage, not unlike blindfolding them. Outside a good session of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, does that sound like something kind to do? Not at all.
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