Wednesday, 13 July 2011

A whisker plot?


Illustration: Kevin Brockbank
Wilhelmina was a blue merle Sheltie who was only four years old when she lost most of her sight. Although she could still make out light and dark, her vision was probably the equivalent to seeing through several layers of tracing paper.
Her owner, Bruce, asked dog neuropsychologist Stanley Coren for advice on how to help her. “My recommendations included leaving items of furniture in their same places so that she could form a consistent “map” of her environment and using scents or textured materials such as throw rugs to mark areas,” recalls Coren in his book, How Dogs Think.  “Willie adapted well and would zoom around the house like a sighted dog most of the time, with only an occasional stumble or collision that reminded the family that she was blind.”
But then disaster struck. On returning home one day from the dog groomers, Willie ran up the steps to go into the house and collided with the door jamb. “As she made her way through the house she banged into a chair and table leg. Now, looking a bit distressed and confused, she began to slow down and move quite tentatively,” remembers Coren. “A bit later, when she went to drink some water, her head actually missed the bowl completely and she bumped her nose on the floor.”
Her owners were distraught and called Coren fearing that she had suffered some sudden mental deterioration.  In fact, it turned out that the dog groomer had cut off Willie’s whiskers, something that had never been done before, and it had robbed her of what Coren believes are an important sensory tool. As they grew back, Willie recovered her ability to navigate round her world to the considerable relief of her owners.
Although we call them whiskers, the proper name for them is “vibrissae” and they are nothing like the non-functional whiskers men sometimes grow on their faces -  or like any other kind of hair that grows on us.  Indeed, we should think of these thicker, stiffer hairs more as “feelers”  - as they are on cats, rats, mice and many other mammals, including seals and even whales.   They are rooted four times deeper than a normal hair, surrounded by erectile tissue and fed with many more nerve fibres and a much more substantial blood supply.  In fact, they are sometimes called “blood hairs” because they bleed when they are plucked out.
And plucked out they sometimes are (although more commonly, trimmed, clipped or shaved) by some dog groomers and owners as part of the grooming process or for preparing dogs for the show ring. According to some experts, we shouldn’t be doing it.
“Many dog fanciers are unaware of the importance of vibrissae to the dog,” says Stanley Coren. “Dogs of many different breeds routinely have their vibrissae cut off in preparation for the show ring. It is argued that this gives the dog’s head a 'cleaner' look.  Amputating vibrissae is both uncomfortable and stressful for dogs, and it reduces their ability to perceive their close surroundings fully."
Coren believes that the vibrissae serve as “an early warning device that something is near the face, protect the dog from colliding with walls and objects, and keep approaching objects from damaging the dog’s face and eyes.”
You can check this for yourself, says Coren, by tapping gently on the vibrissae of a dog. In many dogs, with each tap, the eye on the same side of the face will blink protectively and the dog will tend to turn its head away from the side tapped.
“Dogs have several sets of vibrissae,” explains biologist  and saluki breeder, Dr John Burchard. “The ‘whiskers’ on either side of the
 muzzle are familiar to everyone. They are called ‘mystacial’ vibrissae (from 
the same root as ‘moustache’). On closer examination you will also notice a
 system of seven ‘hair warts’ forming a sort of crown surrounding the head, 
giving the dog information about where it can safely stick its head, and where 
it can't. There is one tuft of vibrissae just above each eye, two 
on each cheek (one upper, one lower) and one under the middle of the chin. In a
 dog with a normal shaped head, those seven tufts of vibrissae form a roughly 
equal spaced circle all around the head, providing important information about
 the surroundings in a zone where the animal cannot see.”

That these special whiskers are of vital importance in some mammals is in no doubt.  A large part of the brain is dedicated to processing the nerve impulses from vibrissae. If vibrissal papillae are damaged in newborn mice, it results in abnormal brain development. Rats are fantastic swimmers – able to swim for up to 48hours - but in one experiment (Richter, 1957), rats that had their vibrissae removed before being put into water swam frantically for a minute or so before giving up and sinking to the bottom of the tank. An autopsy revealed that they hadn’t drowned; they had died of a cardiac arrest, apparently unable to cope without their whiskers. Likewise, it has been found that blindfolded cats can still find and neatly despatch their prey if their whiskers are intact – but not if they are removed. (Paul Leyhausen, Cat Behaviour, 1979)
“They are highly innervated (supplied with nerves), so if they touch something or if the wind blows on them, there will be feedback to the dog’s brain,” says Debra Eldredge, DVM, of Vernon, New York, author of the Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook (Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated, 2007).
In his 1982 report “Whisker Trimming in Show Dogs” (download pdf here), Professor Thomas McGill, a psychologist and Newfoundland breeder, tells the story of a top-winning Vizlsa who sustained  facial injuries when hunting during his youth when he was also being shown (with his vibrissae removed), but not once after he retired from the show-ring and his whiskers were allowed to grow.  
McGill also reports how, according to one obedience trainer, removing vibrissae appeared to interfere with young gundogs’ ability to retrieve. “When the dumb-bell is thrown for them, they approach it, begin to pick it up and then drop it and return to the handler.” This was particularly likely to happen if the vibrissae were growing back after being cut for the showring - apparently caused by the discomfort of the vibrissal stubs hitting the dumbbell.
There are very similar anecdotal reports of horses sustaining facial and eye injuries after their vibrissae have been trimmed (again, done mostly for the show-ring where some exhibitors talk of their horse or dog losing marks for not having their whiskers removed).  Some owners claim their horses use their vibrissae to detect whether or not an electric fence is on.  One handler tells of a mare who refuses to eat for two days after her whiskers are shaved off; another of horses reacting almost like they have been shocked when the stubble of re-growing vibrissae bump into things.
The concern is such that the British Horse Society now advises that they should not be removed and in Germany the practice has been banned in horses on the basis that it is sensory deprivation.
On the other hand, many owners (of both horses and dogs) say that their animals don’t mind their vibrissae being removed – even plucked -  and insist that it makes absolutely no difference to them or their abilities.
“If I thought for a minute my dog's lives were in any way negatively 
impacted by whisker trimming, I wouldn't do it. I just don't see any 
evidence of an issue. I genuinely don't,” says Carolyn Horowitz, who breeds, shows and works her Manchester Terriers.
“We routinely do whiskers on our dogs, and they don't so much as twitch when you touch them or even when we shave them off.  My guys are perfectly functional hunting with or without whiskers.  I think the issue is pretty silly, frankly.
“I'm not suggesting everyone run out and clip off their dog's whiskers, rather there are much bigger fish to fry in the quest for canine welfare than worrying whether a couple of thousand dogs on the entire planet have their whiskers trimmed off when actively showing. “  
Carolyn’s view is widely echoed by showdog owners who choose to trim their dogs’ whiskers – and also by groomers who insist that it doesn’t harm the dogs in any way.  Supporting them is the fact that dogs do not yelp when they are removed (the nerve supply is just to their base; the hair itself contains no nerves) and many dogs do appear to function perfectly well without them.  Also, no one has done specific research on how important they are to the dog – it’s all assumption based on data in other animals and anecdote. 
Vibrissal function is less highly developed in dogs than in several other 
mammalian groups and 
probably less than in wolves,” agrees Dr John Burchard. “But that doesn't mean they are non-functional.”
Just for a minute, close your eyes and imagine what it would be like to be stuck in a pitch black room with no arms and fingertips to help you find your way.  What would you use to help you navigate?  Your feet? Your shoulder? Or perhaps you’d dip your head and use your hair as a buffer? This is one of the roles vibrissae play for dogs and not just in the dark.
I asked the British Veterinary Association what it thought.  “The BVA has not had the opportunity to debate this issue in any detail and therefore does not have a formal policy,” replied BVA president Harvey Locke. “However, I can say that whiskers should not be trimmed, shaved or removed for cosmetic reasons and in cases where the muzzle is clipped for cleanliness every effort should be made to preserve the vibrissae. They are a sensory organ with innervation so it is reasonable to assume that their amputation causes discomfort.”
In the US, Thomas McGill campaigned so strongly on the issue that it has resulted in some breed standard changes. The AKC Newfoundland standard now reads: “Whiskers need not be trimmed” while the Vizsla standard reads: “Whiskers serve a functional purpose; their removal is permitted but not preferred.”
Breed standards here in the UK make no specific reference to the wisdom or otherwise of removing whiskers, but last December the Kennel Club did issue a statement saying that it did not believe any dog should have its whiskers removed for purely cosmetic reasons, and also expressing  concern that whisker removal was becoming more commonplace in clean-faced breeds. 
“As humans we are so accustomed to 
our own more limited sensory abilities that we tend to underestimate the sensory 
abilities of other species,” says John Burchard.
I consider plucking vibrissae to be animal abuse. Clipping them is not quite so
 bad but I still find it disgusting. It is commonly done to Whippets in the show
ring - and a Whippet is surely one of the dogs with the very least need of any 
kind of trimming.”
Stanley Coren agrees: The vibrissae of dogs serve an important function and this becomes even more important as the dog ages and his eyesight dims. Removing the vibrissae simply to make the dog's face look cleaner I believe is unnecessary and harmful to the animal. Unfortunately, as you have mentioned, few dog groomers seem to be aware of this, and even worse, many judges in dog conformation shows still give preference to dogs who have had their vibrissae removed. I even had a dog judge tell me that I should have whiskers removed from my dog, adding the bizarre comment "You don't want your dog to look so hairy do you?"
 -------------------------
This article is adapted from the version that appears in the July 2011 issue of Dogs Today magazine.  Dogs Today is now available internationally for iPad and iPhone for the bargain price of 59p for the app, which includes one edition free.

35 comments:

  1. I'm not sure how relevent the opening example - or for that matter the entire article - is to 'improving the health of pedigree dogs'.

    For starters the example occured in the US where trimming whiskers on clean faced breeds is far more common than in the UK, this was a PET dog trimmed by a professional groomer and it was more or less blind so far more dependant on it's sense of touch as a 'back up' than a dog with normal sight. An analogy is someone who is hard of hearing finds telephone conversations difficult when they cannot see the speaker's face but for those with normal hearing this isn't necessary.

    Also, just because a feature is present on an animal dosn't necessarily mean it serves a vital purpose, especially in domesticated animals. Cattle frequently have their horns removed for safety and lambs routinely have their tails docked for hygene reasons. The BVA statement "They are a sensory organ with innervation so it is reasonable to assume that their amputation causes discomfort.” is hypocritical in the extreeme! Vets are only too happy to put young animals through major invasive surgery to remove reproductive organs supposedly for welfare purposes but also so the owner isn't inconvenienced by nature's unplesant and messy cycles. But of course reproductive organs are surplus to requirement and their removal causes no side effects or discomfort at all (!)

    Trimming whiskers on hairy faced dogs (whatever their parentage or vocation in life) as part of routine grooming usually causes little if any discomfort, distress or indeed problems, especially as most of the time the whiskers do not protrude beyond the facial hair in any case!

    If this article is intended to cause the wrath of the righteous to fall once again on the show world then it is misplaced. No one can find any cases where dogs have had their whiskers plucked or permenantly amputated anyway (which WOULD be cruel and barbaric) so the worst case scenario is having them trimmed with a pair of scissors. Even then, anecdotal evidence would appear to suggest that dogs are equally able to function with or without whiskers. I discussed this with friends whose dogs compete in breed and agility events and there was no discernable difference to the dog's ability to run and jump whether the whiskers were trimmed or untrimmed.

    For the record, I don't trim whiskers so I'm not acting for the defence from a personal point of view, I just think that this is scraping the barrel to try and find a sensational story - sorry Jemima!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yep, not the worse animal welfare scandal of our time - first to admit. But it is a subject that has not been explored much and I when I looked at the research I thought it was an interesting subject to explore. I also hope most would agree that I have been careful to include a variety of views. It isn't ME saying it is an abuse - it is some high-ranking dog people (inc Stanley Coren and Dr John Burchard, who clearly feel pretty strongly about it.)

    I hope merely that it may give some pause for thought.

    I have to confess that I trimmed off a singleton grey whisker from one of our old retrievers a while back because I thought it looked aging. He didn't seem to mind (perhaps a slight flinch) but having researched this one, I wouldn't do it again. The jury is out, but I think there's just enough evidence to err on the side of caution.

    As for the relevance to the issues here - well I do think there is some and it relates to the issue of what is and isn't OK to do in terms of altering dogs physical appearance to meet what we decide is the look we want.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Interesting article. I don't know why an issue has to be lethal and torture to be relevant to discuss. There are a lot of show related practices that aren't purely benign, and are worth talking about, if only to clear the air.

    Not everything has to be sensational and I don't see Jemima overstating the issue here.

    What's the worst thing that happens, people have something else to consider when venturing to do this to their dogs? Not a bad thing at all.

    ReplyDelete
  4. minutia is what this is about.. much ado about nothing but as always you can make make a mountain out of a molehill if it trashes the pure bred dog.. how about the mixed breeds.. any problem trimming their whiskers.. oh excuse me vibrissae ? I trim all of my dogs before showing them.. not a single one has any problem sticking their heads into anything including their food bowls.or avsiodng anything either. and by the way.. if rats drown faster with their vibrissae removed. I will shave every one I see. Nasty buggers...
    by the way I did not see either person you quote all cutting whiskers abuse.. you did that.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I am sorry, but I have standard poodles and I routinely shave their faces. In fact my boy's face gets itchy if I don't shave it. My dogs have NEVER had a problem from having no whiskers on their face.
    Now, I would NEVER shave the whiskers off my cat, cause they do use their whiskers.

    Do you really need to use scare tactics like the opening example.

    I do believe that there are health issues in dogs whether purebred or not, and it seems that here in the US we do more testing than is done in Europe. My poodles will always come from fully tested dam and sires.

    I don't think that using scare tactics and telling people that mutts are in better health than purebreds will help. For one thing that will only make the doodle buyer feel even that much better about themseleves that they bought this most expensive "designer bred dog". I don't think the doodle people need any more reason to breed, there are far too many dogs suffering in puppy mills.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Similar arguments are presented for the "benign" practice of amputating front dewclaws (practiced in both the show world and by some field breeders.)

    I believed the propaganda about dewclaws until I was set straight by Dr. Burchard, mostly with evidence about locomotion, turns at high speed, and the normal hyper-extension of the pastern that is hard to believe until you've seen the photos -- for which I thank him, and the pups I've bred thank him. He got to me just in time to save the thumbs of Pip's first litter.

    Alas, Pip herself, amputated by her breeder (who thought she was doing the right thing), clearly misses her appendages. Sometimes I see her trying to groom/scratch her face and the hooks that she *still* expects to be there are not, and I feel guilty and scratch it for her.

    (Rear dewks, a non-advantageous mutation in some dogs, are a different matter. The do no good for the dog, and can sometimes do harm. But there we go, a few cosmetic standards *require* this mutation.)

    When I was a kid and went everywhere with my beautiful field-bred golden retriever, there was a shop owner near where my mother worked who showed Irish setters. She would always make a point to comment on Shannon's apparently prominent whiskers, which I never noticed/took for granted. I was given the strong impression that she regarded this untidy muzzle as additional evidence of the hillbilly status of both kid and dog.

    I can understand why whiskers come off when a hairy-faced dog is shaved clean -- not sure how one would go about avoiding them. But what possible reason is there to go out of the way to cut them?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Back in the early 1980's, when Canadian breeders were applying for recognition of the Ibizan Hound, one of our breeders who had at that time a top show dog come back from the US with his vibrissae trimmed found that she could not let him out in her dog paddock, which was full of trees, because he ran into them and came very close to breaking his neck. We researched the problem at the time, and the Canadian standard for the breed reads "vibrissae untrimmed". Of course, judges rarely read our standard, preFerring to go by the AKC one!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Lisa wrote - "I don't think that using scare tactics and telling people that mutts are in better health than purebreds will help." Huh? Read the post again, Lisa - it has nothing to do "telling people mutts are in better health than purebreds." Sheeesh - why must some people be always armed for bear when there ain't no bear there?

    I, too, have poodles and I shave their faces - but I will admit I get a little queasy when the clipper "thunks" off those whiskers and, to be perfectly honest, more than once I've wished I could stomach a smelly, wet hairy face. I adore poodles, but I have considered other breeds that don't make me choose between a clean face and the other attributes I like in poodles (e.g., IWDs). So far I'll stick with my poodles, but articles like this - balanced and informative - keep me honest.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Heather H I suspect has never seen the damage done to a dog who has ripped its due claw off while trying to scratch and getting it stuck in a longe coat.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Heather, the practice of removing dew claws is not only practiced in the show world and by some field breeders. Commercial Breeders and puppy millers and your standard BYB also remove dew claws. I have one poodle with dew claws and one without. I personally have no problems with dew claws, if every poodle came with a natural tail and dew claws like my boy, I would be oh so happy.
    I do not think that you can compare removing a digit to shaving whiskers, I think that is a bit of a reach. I don't need to have sutures or surgical glue on hand when grooming my poodles faces.

    Miki, I have yet to hear my clipper go "thunk" when clippering Foxxy or Baldr's face.
    I have read the post and I wasn't referring to this particular post in reference to the mutts, I should have waited until I found a more appropriate post, it was in the heat of the moment, that I posted.
    But if you think that I am the only one on here armed for bear when there ain't no bear, I think you are mistaken. Honestly I am not armed for bear, I am still trying to think before I type, and sometimes I forget to do that. Sometimes I say things in the heat of the moment, that are out of context.

    I am happy that you think that this article was fair and balanced, I see more negative feedback by named people than the comment from one breeder Carolyn Horowitz,, altho to be fair it states, many owners and showdog owners echo her. I am one of those owners.

    I am open to learning from any source, one needs to read from both sides to be able to form one's own opinion. I will continue to read this blog, I just probably won't post again. Just because I may not agree with everything, I can still learn and that is what it is all about. Learning and giving back to the breed I love so much.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Flick of a whisker can prevent stroke damage in rats.

    "In the two-hour window after a stroke, flicking a single whisker completely prevents many damaging effects in a rat, a new study finds."

    http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/65616/title/Flick_of_a_whisker_can_prevent_stroke_damage_in_rats

    ReplyDelete
  12. Wow... thank you for this link, Anon. What an amazing report. Interesting, too, that they say the human analogue to a rat's whisker is a lip or finger, ie not our hair which is not innervated.

    Doesn't prove the case in dogs, of course, but absolutely fascinting.

    ReplyDelete
  13. So you (used to) tail dock and dewclaw remove "just in case", but you shave off a major sensory organ regardless of the potential damage/discomfort (however little the risk)...

    ReplyDelete
  14. Ah, Anonymous #5,621, the elusive dewclaw injury.

    You are correct. I have never seen it.

    Nearly 20 years in SAR, fifteen as a medic, been around hundreds of dogs who are working in difficult field conditions, brambles, waste places, strip mines, major disasters. Seen and treated just about every part of a dog ripped, punctured, abraded, impaled and lacerated by just about every imaginable mechanism, and some that were unimaginable until they happened.

    And I have NEVER seen a front dewclaw injury.

    So you are correct.

    I find it curious, the notion that if something *might* be subject to injury, cut it off.

    One would soon enough have a frictionless spherical dog. A legless pug, perhaps. And it would roll right down the stairs and still get injured.

    As for a dog who "rips" off a *front* dewclaw in his own entangling Big Hair -- really? -- perhaps that's a sign one might give the dog a haircut, not a prophylactic amputation of a functional digit. Or, you know, brush him out every now and again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "I find it curious, the notion that if something *might* be subject to injury, cut it off. One would soon enough have a frictionless spherical dog."

      You say it so well! The bleedin' obvious so articulatley characterised for those to whom it is, oddly, not bleedin' obvious.

      There's an horrific video on YouTube of a woman snipping off puppies' thumbs with a pair of scissors at home. No anaesthetic. No medical reason. No qualifications. Just a 'breeder'. She does it in a really "Ya see how easy this is for you to do too? :)" kind of way. Horrifying.

      (I don't want to post the link here and encourage viewing, but if you come across it please report it to YouTube in their violence/animal abuse category.)

      Delete
  15. (Rear dewks, a non-advantageous mutation in some dogs, are a different matter. The do no good for the dog, and can sometimes do harm. But there we go, a few cosmetic standards *require* this mutation.)
    says Heather..
    actually there was a great program on about dogs that are used to hunt puffins.. the Norwegian Lundehund they have "extra toes" and here is more info on double dews claws... they are not just "cosmetic"
    "A number of ancient shepherding dog breeds exhibit polydactyly and it is considered an unremarkable trait. Some have single or double dewclaws on the front and/or hind paws. Breeds where the polydactyly trait is encouraged are those bred for working on snowy or uneven ground where extra grip is required. Dewclaws are frequently removed in non-working, non-show pet dogs as they may snag, hence canine polydactyly is often overlooked. Some canine breed standards (depending on which official body the dog is registered with) require the dewclaw(s) to be present in show specimens while others permit their removal.

    The Norwegian Lundehund must have at least six toes and eight pads on the fore paws; five toes must rest on the ground. On the hind legs there must be at least six toes, four of which must rest on the ground. The toes have extra joints to aid it in its traditional job of puffin-hunting, for which it needs to climb cliffs. In the Beauceron, the double hind dewclaws should form thumbs and be close to the foot to provide a larger weight-bearing surface. The Catalonian Sheepdog's double hind dewclaws must be joined together and joined to the first (inner) toe by a membrane (webbing). In the Iceland Shepherd Dog, hind dewclaws are essential and double dewclaws are preferred. The Briard's double hind dewclaws must be located close to the ground. In several other breeds, hind dewclaws are permitted e.g. Great Pyrenees (double), Portuguese Sheepdog (single/double), Cao Fila de Sao Miguel (single), Cao de Castro Laboreiro (single/double on both front and hind feet), Saint Bernard, Pyreenees Mastiff (double preferred over single), Estrela Mountain Dog (single/double), East Siberian Laika, Anatolian Shepherd Dog (double).

    ReplyDelete
  16. I have had two dewclaw injuries bad enough to have the dew claw removed at a later age.painful and expensive. my dogs are shorthaired..I choose to remove their dewclaws if i can get to the vet.. if not they stay on.. my preference.. off.. as I do see them snag on things For Johns breed.. nope they do high speed turns.. mine do not..a rabbit to them is a stuffed toy.. not something to chase..

    ReplyDelete
  17. It's true that this is not the top of the list in issues but it certainly deserves an outing. I have to admit not hearing about this until last months dogs today, as I don't have anything to do with shows. It's always the last thing to add when finishing a portrait and makes it complete. Those who are pro seem to give the same argument that those did for tail docking. It's on the dog for a reason, so leave well alone. The dog doesn't care what he looks like.
    Emma

    ReplyDelete
  18. Emma, please be aware that the trimming of whiskers probably occurs at least as frequently in pet grooming parlours as for the show ring. I've seen countless spaniels, bichons, doodle types and general shaggy dogs that have had their faces trimmed and clipped by groomers, so this is far from a show ring issue. It isn't the groomers trying to imitate the show world either as many pet people seem to prefer cleaner more hygenic faces.

    As for front dewclaw injuries, they certainly do happen as my auntie's dog tore his claw so badly it had to be removed. He's not a madly active dog or neglected or one with a long tangled coat either.....
    The issue with dewclaws is that people sometimes overlook them and miss when they are becoming overgrown as they don't wear in the same way the rest of the claws do. Neglected claws can grow around and dig into the animal's leg causing irritation and vulnerability into infection or injury as a result.

    Heather, I take it you are against neutering for prevention of illness too?

    ReplyDelete
  19. So just beacause Heather Houlahan hasnt seen something it means it doesnt or cant happen?!? such a shame to have a closed view on life,. So many of the people on here sit on a pedistal and slag off pedigree and show dogs but have no REAL knowledge of them. Go to a show and speak to more than just owner of more than just one breed, that you havnt already made up your mind about. Life is about learning.

    ReplyDelete
  20. As a VN, I have assisted in the removal of ripped dew claws. Normally front ones and normally ones that are "unattached" as opposed to "attached".

    I see no reason why firmly attached dew claws in puppies should be removed as a matter of course.

    In fact the same goes with non attached dew claws unless they are continuously getting caught, but surely this can be avoided by keeping the nail trimmed. Most ripped front leg dew claws that I have seen are overly long.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Well, maybe here is an opportunity to learn about our dogs whiskers.
    They are clearly very important as a sensory organ. In rats its possible to map the motor areas of individual whiskers in the brain. It takes up a larger area than their fore paw (check out motor maps). Dogs whiskers are highly sensitive. Just because there are no real external signs of irritation or discomfort from their removal it doesn't mean there is no problem.

    You cannot pick out that we should be (or used to be) tail docking and/or removing dewclaws to prevent possible injury and yet cut off a major sensory organ with the knowledge that this may possibly cause irritation or discomfort.

    This is a general dog problem as mongrels can have their whiskers trimmed as part of normal grooming too. The only reason this has come up on this blog is because breeders and showers frequently groom their own dogs, and just for aesthetic reasons. My aunties dogs (mongrels) are clipped in the summer to make them more comfortable. She has always asked the groomer to leave the hair around their whiskers.

    One very simple answer to this problem. Don't cut them. Its unnecessary and not at all a problem if nobody does it. Ask your groomer not to cut them and don't do it yourself. No harm done.

    ReplyDelete
  22. What is this real knowledge you talk of, anonymous person?

    ReplyDelete
  23. My SAR GSD, she of more enthusiasm than judgement, regularly lacerates her freaking TONGUE while working.

    Shall I have it amputated? What about my other dogs, the ones with better-balanced brains, who don't have this problem? Shall we chop their tongues off because of the GSD's bad habits?

    I knew a bloodhound who abraded his LIPS while trailing. What a bloody mess that was. How about a little nip/tuck there -- you know, prophylactic like?

    One of my dogs had eight teeth kicked out by a deer in the orchard. Awful injury. That couldn't have happened if we'd pulled them all when she was ten months old.

    My second SAR partner had an impalement right through her carpal pad. Nasty. Off with those, right?

    We could just declaw dogs when they are puppies, like some people with fancy sofas do to kitties. No more broken nails, no need to clip them, no annoying ticka ticka ticka on the kitchen floor.

    I know better, of course, than to invoke ear or tail injuries, because there are so many who are quite certain that amputating pinnae and caudal vertebrae is medically necessary, and irony is always lost on those who have always done it this way,

    ReplyDelete
  24. Okay, I've read all this bantering back and forth about trimming the vibrissae and had done it when I groomed my dogs for the show ring, but I do not now. What brought it home was reading about vibrissae in Bruce Fogle's book, The Dog's Mind.
    Perhaps it's a measure of the vibrissae's value in that many terrier breeds, schnauzers and some wire haired dogs have full hairy muzzles.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Anonymous, there are many folks who believe that dewclaws have a purpose and that dogs use them when running quickly and making sharp turns. Chris Zink, DVM has said that she sees more carpal arthritis in dogs with dewclaws removed. I know I find dirt under my Border Collies toenails when he's been running around, so the argument that they hang lifelessly is obviously not universal. Yes, some dogs can damage their dewclaws but they can also crack a tooth which can cause a painful infection, and we certainly don't go about extracting healthy teeth in puppies because they might get damaged some day, now do we?

    ReplyDelete
  26. This is a very interesting debate, I must admit I hate having dew claws done, cutting off any bits of a puppy just dosnt seem right. Why do I do it then you may ask.....to be honest now Im not sure.
    I would think the reason not many dew claw injuries are seen is that in most cases they are removed, vets are now refusing to do them ( although I find this a tad hypocritical as they seem quite happy to debeak,perform cesarians on cows deliberately bred with huge bulls etc) maybe it will soon become accepted to leave them on and injuries will rise accordingly.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Believe me vets are not happy about beak trimming (not carried out by a vet) or performing caesarean sections on animals who will die unless they do them. Farmed animals are reared for a profit making any veterinary intervention usually a last resort (if it is economical), unlike our pets.
    Having worked at a veterinary practice for seven years I have never seen a dewclaw injury and I have seen alot of dogs with dewclaws and double dewclaws.
    Natural selection has kept dewclaws in wild dogs (including Dhole, coyotes, bush and racoon dogs) and wolves, and why are breeds such as the Briard accepted as being immune from dewclaw damage? I think the hypocrites here are clear.

    ReplyDelete
  28. However Anonymous, vets are seemingly more than happy to neuter animals - remove their breeding ORGANS simply because owners are not competent enough to keep the bitch in when she is in season, or stop the dog from roaming, or because it is inconvenient to have an entire animal around.
    I know the line frequently given that it is done to PREVENT conditions such as pyometra and cancers developing, but this is no more a certainty than a dog injuring a dewclaw or tail because it hasn't been cut off. Perhaps we are becoming a society where we are comfortable with removing things which aren't noticable for our own convenience but if a visible amputation is made, that is surely wrong!

    I find it very hard to understand how people can endorse routine removal of some parts of a dog's anatomy for preventative reasons but are adamently opposed to removing others.

    ReplyDelete
  29. vets are seemingly more than happy to neuter animals - remove their breeding ORGANS simply because owners are not competent enough to keep the bitch in when she is in season, or stop the dog from roaming, or because it is inconvenient to have an entire animal around.
    I know the line frequently given that it is done to PREVENT conditions such as pyometra and cancers developing, but this is no more a certainty than a dog injuring a dewclaw or tail because it hasn't been cut off.

    I'm all for vets neutering dogs if this prevents more unwanted, un health tested puppies being born through back yard breeders.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Plus having worked in a VERY busy south london charity hospital I have seen MANY pyometras, most successfully removed but some that have died as they were too toxic. Most were elderly bitches, but a few younger.
    So I can see a reason for spaying a bitch earlier, particularly if the same owners are in two minds about breeding her willy nilly to their "mates" dog.

    Your killing two birds with one stone.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I know Kate and I do agree with what you are saying regarding preventing unwanted litters etc but the point I was trying to make was that it seems odd that a rather minor proceedure to remove a dewclaw or tail tip in a puppy to prevent the liklihood of injuries later in life is seen by some people as wholly unacceptable yet a much more invasive and potentially damaging proceedure is regarded in a different light.
    Fair enough, tail/claw injuries are not likely to be life threatening and might not happen anyway but nor are unspayed bitches guarenteed to develop pyometra, nor entire males guarenteed to develop cancer.

    In essence, there are pros and cons to all proceedures where a part of anatomy is removed. One proceedure isn't always 'right' and the other isn't always 'wrong'. If people wish to have dewclaws removed to prevent injury (which does happen) why should they be demonised over people who take the option of preventative neutering?

    Returning to the subject of trimming whiskers, it simply isn't always possible to trim round them in hairy dogs without leaving a peculiar moustache (often the very reason for the trim) and with young, ticklish or fidgety dogs fussing around trying to leave the whiskers could be impossible.

    I don't think trimming whiskers in clean faced breeds is necessary, but don't think it causes the dog suffering and trauma either. Far more welfare issues are caused by people who don't groom their dogs properly and allow them to become matted and soiled than by those who chose to trim off a bit extra!

    ReplyDelete
  32. So how many vets can say that spaying a bitch at 12 weeks or less (as the RSPCA often do) is in its best interest? it pure mutilation and nothing else!!!! but perhaps Ms Price in here year of VN work can defend such things?

    ReplyDelete
  33. Hi,
    I just wanted to say that I have worked as a dog groomer, and the state of the dogs that come in the grooming parlor where I worked was often terrible. Now, I have Standard Poodles, and let me tell you, poodles that have their face and feet shaved are so much better to work with than some coated breeds that come in with long hair around their mouths that are absolutely filthy and matted around their teeth. Now, in clean faced dogs I don't believe there is any reason to trim whiskers. But I believe in coated dogs that long hair around the face and feet is just a recipe for filth. It is a constant battle to keep such dogs clean, with only partial success. Such dogs, if they are white, often have unsightly staining around the mouth and eyes from bacterial colonies. Almost all the small lapdogs that came in to the parlor with long hair around the face are just disgusting, not hygienic at all. I have also groomed poodles whose owners don't do the sensible thing and want hairy feet and face. Now, normally poodles are very clean dogs, if given a sensible cut with clean feet and face. However if you cut a poodle like a Bichon they are likey to be just as filthy if not worse. I was a pet groomer, and show families are usually willing to put in the time and effort to make sure their coated breeds are well groomed, but let me tell you, working in a pet grooming parlor has given me a horror of dogs with long hair around the face. I can tell you that hands down it is better to have a dog without whiskers than to have one with filth around it's mouth and eyes. I believe if it is not necessary for cleanliness that a dog should keep it's whiskers, but just be aware that that is not possible for many breeds, and the filth is definitely worse than not having whiskers.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I'm more interested in the dogs welfare than a "peculiar moustache".
    My bearded cross breed really doesn't mind if her beard is roughly trimmed leaving her whiskers.

    Yes, research has shown the timing of neutering is crucial in the prevention of various conditions, however, unlike you, who are clearly mainly interested in aesthetics, I am interested primarily in welfare. My dog was neutered as part of a scheme by the charity who rescued her.

    You want vets stop neutering?! You'll just be asking for trouble.

    I'm assuming you have whiskers as your opinion is clearly superior of the scientific peer reviewed research which has been carried out.
    (THE ROLE OF VIBRISSAE IN BEHAVIOR: A STATUS REVIEW - Veterinary Research Communications, 10 (1986), "WHISKER" TRIMMING IN SHOW DOGS: a harmless cosmetic procedure or mutilation of a sensory system? as above by McGill and the numerous projects on rat vibrissae).

    I don't think this is the worst thing in the world for dogs, far worse can happen to them. But on principle I won't let people only interested in aesthetics rule over common sense, it is why we have the problems we do.

    ReplyDelete