Why Do Animals Have Whiskers?

iStock/Chloe Effron
iStock/Chloe Effron

WHY? is our attempt to answer all the questions every little kid asks. Do you have a question? Send it to why@mentalfloss.com.

Humans don’t have whiskers, but most other mammals do. These wiry hairs growing out of an animal’s face, forehead, and sometimes legs have a fancy scientific name: vibrissae (Vi-BRISS-uh). From cats and dogs to rats and seals, animals use whiskers to help them find their way and follow their prey.

Not all animals have great eyesight, and some need to be able to hunt and move at night when it’s harder to see. Plus, animals with long snouts, like dogs, sometimes have trouble seeing things that are right in front of their big noses! So for a lot of animals, whiskers are a little like fingers. We use our fingers to “see” in the dark by feeling things around us. But other animals brush, or whisk, their whiskers against objects to guide them, measure things, and find food. 

Whiskers aren’t just hairs. Where each whisker is rooted in the skin are lots and lots of nerve cells. When the whisker touches something, these nerve cells send messages to the brain. It’s amazing how much information an animal’s brain gets from the whiskers. Rats’ whiskers help them make mental maps of the world around them. Seals use their whiskers to sense the vibrations of a fish moving in the water. Many animals use whiskers to figure out whether or not they can fit through a tight space. Whiskers may look cute, but they also help animals survive.

Here’s a fun video from the BBC about how cats use their whiskers to catch prey.


FDA Recalls Several Dry Dog Foods That Could Cause Toxic Levels of Vitamin D

iStock.com/Chalabala
iStock.com/Chalabala

The FDA has recalled several brands of dry dog food that contain potentially toxic levels of vitamin D, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. While vitamin D is essential for dogs, too much of the nutrient can result in kidney failure and other serious health problems.

The FDA has already received reports of vitamin D toxicity in dogs that consumed certain dry foods. Pet owners are advised to stop using the following products:

Old Glory Hearty Turkey and Cheese Flavor Dog Food (manufactured by Sunshine Mills, Inc.)

Evolve Chicken & Rice Puppy Dry Dog Food (Sunshine Mills, Inc.)

Sportsman's Pride Large Breed Puppy Dry Dog Food (Sunshine Mills, Inc.)

Triumph Chicken & Rice Recipe Dry Dog Food (Sunshine Mills, Inc.)

Nature's Promise Chicken & Brown Rice Dog Food (Ahold Delhaize)

Nature's Place Real Country Chicken and Brown Rice Dog Food (Ahold Delhaize)

Abound Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe Dog Food (sold at Kroger in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as King Soopers and City Market stores in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming)

ELM Chicken and Chickpea Recipe (ELM Pet Foods, Inc.)

ELM K9 Naturals Chicken Recipe (ELM Pet Foods, Inc.)

ANF Lamb and Rice Dry Dog Food (ANF, Inc.)

Orlando Grain-Free Chicken & Chickpea Superfood Recipe (sold at Lidl stores)

Natural Life Pet Products Chicken & Potato Dry Dog Food

Nutrisca Chicken and Chickpea Dry Dog Food

For the full list of UPC and lot numbers involved in the recall, visit the FDA's website.

Symptoms of vitamin D poisoning usually develop 12 to 36 hours after pets consume a suspect food, according to PetMD. The FDA says those symptoms include vomiting, loss of appetite, increased thirst, increased urination, excessive drooling, and weight loss. "Customers with dogs who have consumed this product and are exhibiting these symptoms should contact their veterinarian as soon as possible," the FDA writes.

The agency says the situation is still developing, and it will update the list of recalled brands as more information becomes available. According to WKRN News, veterinary professionals recommend sticking to dog foods that have an AAFCO label (from the Association of American Feed Control Officials) on them.

[h/t The Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

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