When you look at your rabbit, there are many things about his body that you might instantly pick up on. But the whiskers are not often viewed, by owners, as a significant part of the bunny’s anatomy. It may come as a surprise, therefore, that these cute, protruding hairs actually serve an important purpose.
Whiskers are used to determine space. If a rabbit wants to get between two stationary objects the whiskers are its way of determining if its body can fit. Whiskers are also a way for rabbits to explore objects that they cannot see or smell very well.
So, if whiskers are an important part of your pet’s sensory anatomy, it may be time to learn a little more about how they work.
Do Pet Rabbits Need Their Whiskers?
Rabbits do not need their whiskers, as such, and they would likely function and get on with life perfectly well without them. But it would be similar to taking away one of your senses and expecting you to be able to navigate the world in the same way as you did before. Understandable, it would be difficult.
If you were to remove your rabbit’s whiskers, they wouldn’t suffer a great deal. However, they would need to learn new ways to navigate the world, and unless removing them is absolutely necessary, they should always be left intact. More on this later.
Whiskers are hair, although they are much thicker and stiffer than the hair on the rest of your bunny which is typically soft and fluffy. The whiskers are located around the mouth and on the cheeks of the rabbit and they don’t just grow randomly. In fact, rabbit whiskers grow in a grid-like pattern, but you may also find some whiskers near the eyelids.
Your rabbits whiskers will also be of varying lengths, depending on where they are located on the face. For example, those that are around the nose tend to be much shorter, whereas the whiskers that are around the back part of the cheek are generally much longer and can be as wide as the rabbit itself.
They are also set much deeper into the skin, making them much more difficult to pull out or become naturally dislodged. But they are only lodged to keep them secure, the follicles in which the whiskers are set have a very sensitive set of nerve endings.
As your pet rabbit moves his whiskers, these nerve endings are activated and even the most gentle touch can be felt much more deeply. This provides the rabbit with a way of judging the world around him and gives him much greater spatial awareness.
Rabbits have rather strange eyesight which means that they have a very significant blind spot that might prevent them from correctly navigating the world. However, whiskers make up for this and allow the rabbit to investigate his surroundings in a totally different way.
The longer whiskers will help the rabbit to judge whether he can make it comfortably through an opening or whether he will get stuck. Since some of the whiskers are as wide as his body, if they won’t fit into a gap, the rabbit knows that he won’t either.
What’s more, whiskers can be used to help the bunny locate an item that is in his blind spot. When he is moving around in low light, the whiskers will serve as a way to help the rabbit know what is in front of him. While rabbits do have good night vision, compared to humans, their eyes work best at mid-light that occurs at dusk and dawn; when the rabbits are most active.
What Happens if You Cut A Bunny’s Whiskers?
Some rabbit owners may feel that cutting their rabbit’s whiskers should form part of their grooming routine. Others may have a pet who has had an accident and one of the whiskers has been unintentionally severed. In any case, it is always best to avoid cutting a rabbit’s whiskers.
As we have discussed, rabbits need their whiskers to navigate the world and while they would still survive without them, it would be confusing. You might notice that, after removing the rabbit’s whiskers, he struggles to judge space and may get stuck in small spaces.
If you are concerned about your rabbit’s whiskers after an accident, the good news is that they will grow back, given some time. The severing of the whiskers is unlikely to cause any pain for your rabbit so it shouldn’t be distressing to them. However, if, during the incident, the whiskers were pulled, this might cause some pain for your pet.
Do Rabbit’s Whiskers Fall Out?
Just like humans, rabbits may begin to lose hair as they get older. This is nothing to worry about and is completely natural. It might not only be the hair on the rabbit’s body but whiskers may fall out too.
However, if your rabbit is young, a loss of whiskers may be related to some sort of skin condition. There are many skin conditions that could cause your rabbit to lose his hair and this includes whiskers. In this case, you should have your rabbit seen by your vet. These skin conditions could be anything from dermatitis to mite infestations or a fungal infection. But only your vet will be able to determine this after examining your pet.
If a skin condition or old age isn’t to blame, there are other medical conditions that could cause a rabbit to lose his whiskers. Most commonly, things like thyroid problems can result in hair loss, including the whiskers.
That being said, Rex rabbits have a natural tendency to lose their whiskers at any age so you shouldn’t be overly concerned about this.
Some rabbits, depending on their living situation may end up regularly fighting with another rabbit and this can be a cause of whisker loss. In this situation, you may need to separate the rabbits to prevent further, potentially more serious injury.
Why Are My Rabbits Whiskers So Long?
There are some rabbits who have sustained damage to the whiskers which can affect their length and shape. Most commonly, rabbits may develop curled whiskers and in this case, it may be OK to trim the ends as this could encourage new, straight growth.
Some rabbits have naturally long whiskers and there is nothing wrong with this. If the whiskers are not curling or show no other signs of ill health, then you should leave them where they are and resist the urge to trim them. You won’t be doing your rabbit any favors, in fact, you’ll likely make life more difficult for him.