Why Do Guinea Pigs Have Whiskers?

Whiskers are long sensory hairs found in some mammals. They are located on both sides of the face.

Guinea pigs have 23 whiskers on each side which is less compared to rats and mice who have 33 whiskers on each side.

The whiskers are located in various parts including below the chin, under the nose, and around the eyes. Some guinea pigs have curled whiskers e.g the teddies.

Why do guinea pigs have whiskers?

Guinea pigs have whiskers mainly as their sensory features. It helps them in their movements. Their eyesight is poor so they use whiskers and their noses to substitute for that. Whiskers enable guinea pigs to know everything going on around them and if there’s something nearby.

The whiskers are sensitive to touch and they can determine the location and shape of the object they come into contact with.

How do whiskers function

Whiskers are thin strands of hair. They are made of keratin just like real hair and they lack nerves making them painless if they were cut.

The front whiskers are typically longer than the back whiskers.  Whiskers may not have nerves along the strands but they have nerve endings at the edges.

These nerve endings are the reason why guinea pigs can feel something that’s nearby. When the edges of the whiskers touch something, a guinea pig will be able to recognize it.

Uses of whiskers

Whiskers have several important uses for guinea pigs. They include:

Going through passages

When a guinea pig is trying to pass through a passage, they will use their whiskers to measure whether they can fit in. If the whiskers touch the sides of the passage then the guinea pig will not go through it.

This is because the length of guinea pigs’ whiskers is equal to the width of their bodies. So if they sense that the whiskers touch the walls of a passage it means they will either have to squeeze themselves through or not be able to fit at all.

This is what enables guinea pigs to run easily through tunnels and holes even though they don’t have great vision.

Feeling close things

Whiskers will sense anything that’s near guinea pigs. A guinea piggy cannot tell how far something is with its eyes.

This makes the whiskers functions as their second eyes. If something is close by and they can’t see it, the whiskers will feel and sense that there’s something there.

Protect eyes

Whiskers around the eyes work in protecting the guinea pig’s eyes. Guinea pig eyes are almost always open.

The whiskers help in preventing particles from getting in the eyes by repelling them before they could get in. The whiskers will also sense if something is close to the eyes that could cause injury to them hence providing protection.

Assist blind guinea pigs

Whiskers aid blind guinea pigs in their movements too. As they cannot see even the little that seeing guinea pigs are capable of, they will rely on whiskers a lot more.

The whiskers will be like a walking stick to them as they feel around and move about sensing where things are located.

While eating

Whiskers are sensitive and they help guinea pigs feel around for their food. As their eyes are located on the sides of the heads, they cannot see their food.

The whiskers will sense the food and enable them to eat effortlessly.

For balance

Whiskers are equal on both sides of the face. This makes them help the guinea pig to have balance as they move about.

Can you cut a guinea pig’s whiskers?

No, you should not cut a guinea pig’s whiskers. This is because they are vital in their movements and they wouldn’t be able to move well without them.

While trimming a guinea pig’s hair, you should be careful not to move the scissors very close to the whiskers as you could accidentally cut them. Do not worry so much about it though because they can grow again.

At times, whiskers can get quite overgrown but this is rare. In these instances, you can trim the whiskers very little to avoid hindering their normal functioning.

What causes the falling of whiskers?

Guinea pigs have a natural cycle of shedding and growth of their whiskers. This means that the whiskers shed themselves and grow on their own. That’s why it wouldn’t be necessary to cut them.

You can easily find a fallen whisker in your guinea pig’s cage and that’s normal. However, if the whiskers keep falling or there is no regrowth, you should call a vet because that’s not normal.

Causes of whiskers falling are:

Fights

Guinea pigs have occasional fights which can sometimes turn ugly. When they are serious, they will furiously scratch and bite into each other.

This can cause a guinea pig to lose some of its whiskers as they are bitten off by their cage mate. One guinea pig will bite off the other’s whiskers as a show of dominance.

Alopecia

Alopecia is a condition where excess stress attacks the immune system hence causing hair loss. This could bring about the falling of whiskers.

Fungal infections

Fungal infections like ringworms may attack your fragile guinea pig on the face and bring about round patches. These patches lead to hair loss as there will not be any whiskers on the space with the patches.

Boredom

Guinea pigs will be seen chewing each other’s whiskers. This can be prevented by making sure that your pets are occupied with things like toys or tunnels to chase each other around.

Mite infestations and bacteria

If your guinea pig has mite infestations or bacteria, they could affect the whiskers causing them to fall off.

Conclusion

Whiskers are vital parts of guinea pigs. Although they can grow back, you should take care not to cut them as this could bring about movement problems in your pets. View them as their seeing aids and you’ll see how important they are.

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