When it comes to pets like dogs and cats, we often use the terms fur and hair interchangeably. But, have you ever asked yourself if they are in fact the same thing? If you have a furry, or hairy, friend at home, here are some things you should know about their coats.
The most important thing to know about the difference between hair and fur is that they are actually not different at all, at least scientifically speaking. Both hair and fur share the same chemical composition, as the two are made out of keratin, the same protein compound that makes up fingernails, claws, horns, and hooves. When people discuss hair vs. fur, they are typically referring to appearance, texture, and length of a dog’s coat.
The main difference between hair and fur is the way each grows. Even though both dog hair and fur go through the same phases of the hair cycle, how long each stage takes determines the characteristics such as thickness, length, texture, and shedding. Generally, “hair” goes through a longer Anagen phase or growing phase. Dog “fur” goes through the entire cycle quicker, which is why dogs with fur shed more often. Since fur goes through every phase faster, including the growing phase, dog fur is typically shorter and thicker than hair which is longer due to its longer growing phase.
There are over three dozen dog breeds that grow hair instead of fur. Because longer hair tends to trap allergens, many of these dogs are considered hypoallergenic, or less likely to cause an allergic reaction. These dogs include:
The following list of dogs tend to have shorter coats, commonly called fur. These dogs don’t require much grooming but shed more often than dogs with hair.
When it comes to cats, the terms hair and fur are often used interchangeably to the point where it can get confusing. For example, a ball of cat fur is called a hairball, but people often refer to their cats as furballs. Generally, the preferred term among cat owners is hair, regardless of breed.
When it comes to horses, there is also no difference between hair and fur. However, you will rarely meet someone who refers to a horse’s coat as fur. When it comes to larger animals like horses and livestock, what determines if they have hair or fur is if humans can use their coats as, well, coats. For example, a cow’s or horse’s coat is not dense or long enough to be used as garments, so we call their coats hair. In contrast, mammals like bears and minks are considered to have fur, while animals like sheep are said to have a fleece of wool.