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Dog Fur and Dog Hair – Are They the Same or Different?

Picture of a grey poodle

Dog fur and dog hair – we use the terms interchangeably. But are they really the same thing? When Fido reclines on your lap, and you lovingly stroke his coat, you can’t help but marvel at the color and texture. Though the color is often replicated in human hair; sometimes, the feel of the coat is markedly different. Are there similarities between dog fur and dog hair? Are they the same thing, or are they completely different? 

The Truth About Dog Fur and Dog Hair

There are many misconceptions about dog fur and dog hair. With the increase in allergies taking a dramatic upturn in recent years and the development of hybrid “hypoallergenic” breeds, many people claim there is a decided difference between hair and fur with hair falling on the side of being non-shedding and allergy resistant. However, the facts show that there are very few differences between fur and hair with the main two being the length and feel of the coat.

Here are Some Important Facts Regarding Fur and Hair:

There is no chemical difference between fur and hair.
When it comes to their chemical composition, the facts show that there is virtually no difference whatsoever between fur and hair. Both fur and hair as well as skin and nails are comprised of a protein substance known as keratin. What this essentially means when it comes to allergies and the “hypoallergenic” dog coat is that whether a dog has fur or hair has no bearing on its allergy friendliness. Studies show that it is generally not fur or hair that causes allergic reactions in people. It is dander. Dander is essentially the dead skin particles which collect on an animal’s skin which are then shed into their living environment. These cells can become airborne making them difficult to trap and remove and also instigating more frequent allergic reactions. Dander is not only contained in dead skin flakes; it is also present in saliva and urine, making it very challenging to rid any home environment of them. It is easy to see that this has no connection to either fur or hair. 

Hair takes longer to grow than fur.
One of the chief differences between fur and hair is their growth cycles. Fur typically remains shorter than hair. Hair meanders through several growth patterns which have been segmented into identifiable stages. The length of the hair is the determining factor as to which stage the hair growth is in. The four stages are anagen, catagen, telogen and exogen.

In the anagen stage, the hair itself is new, and it is shorter in length. As the hair progresses to the catagen stage, it enters a period of transition. During this time, the hair is no longer experiencing growth. The root is simply becoming attached to the existing hair. Once this phase is complete, the telogen phase, which introduces a period of rest, begins. The last phase, known as exogen, is the stage where the hair is shed and the process begins again. The hair growth cycle is continuous and far longer lasting than the growth pattern of fur. Fur remains far shorter, and its anagen phase is markedly abbreviated in comparison to that of hair. This does mean that coats comprised of fur do shed more frequently as the hair growth passes through each phase more rapidly. However, this has no bearing on chemical composition or on a coat’s ability to be allergy friendly as allergies are not related to coat type. 

Fur and hair feel different to the touch.
When it comes to touch, fur and hair definitely do feel differently. It’s not just your imagination! Hair tends to grow longer and is more delicate to the touch. In addition to this, hair more commonly tends to curl or grow in waves. It is this tendency that can cause dander to remain on the skin thus giving the illusion that a dog with hair may have a coat that is less prone to eliciting allergic reactions in its owner. With the dander firmly trapped on the skin and the longer growth cycle of the hair, this type of coat then appears to be hypoallergenic when in essence it is simply a difference in growing patterns. Additionally, dogs who have hair rather than fur often lack an undercoat. With only one layer of hair, there is already a reduced amount of shedding.

By comparison, fur remains shorter in length, and it grows in thicker patches. Underneath what is called a top coat is often a dense undercoat. This coat serves many purposes from protecting the skin to providing warmth. Dogs who possess fur and also possess an undercoat appear to shed more frequently because the growth cycle of fur is shorter. In these types of dogs, fur will often simply fall out when it is dead. It may appear that the dog is shedding more vigorously than his hairy counterparts, but he actually is not.

When it comes to fur and hair, there are differences, but at the heart of the matter is the fact that chemically speaking, they are one and the same. Regardless of whether your beloved canine friend possesses fur or hair, a good brushing and regular grooming is all that is required to keep Fido looking and smelling his best.

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