What is the Difference Between Fur and Hair on Dogs?

By John Martin - November 16, 2023

close up image of dog furImagine that you’re walking by and you happen to see the cutest, shaggiest little ball of fur come tottering towards you—would you say that’s an extremely hairy dog or an extremely furry one?

Given the similarities between the two, a lot of people, even pet parents, often confuse hair and fur or use the two terms interchangeably. However, can they be used interchangeably, or do the two share distinguishing differences, just as they have similarities?

Fur vs Hair

Speaking from a chemical viewpoint, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that hair and fur are the same—they both share the same composition! Both hair and fur are made of keratin, the same component that nails and even skin are made of.

However, you can differentiate the two based on a few factors, such as what care they require, their growth cycle, and even how they feel.

Different Growth Cycles

One of the primary differences between hair and fur is that the former is longer—this is because hair has a slower growth cycle. What this means is that hairy dogs shed less, compared to furry dogs. Here’s a breakdown of the growth phase for better understanding:

  • Anagen: The phase where the follicle becomes active.
  • Catagen: This is the transition phase. Growth pauses during this phase and root sheath bonds to the hair. Hair growth ends in this period.
  • Telogen: This is a phase of stillness, also known as the ‘resting phase’, where there is neither growth nor death of hair.
  • Exogen: This is the last phase where the hair is shed by the follicle, leading to the cycle starting again. This phase is quicker during the summer as the hair/fur from the last winter needs to be shed.

Though both hair and fur go through the same cycle, dog fur has a shorter anagen phase; it grows only to a certain length and goes through the whole growth cycle much faster, leading to more frequent shedding.

Hair, on the other hand, enjoys a longer anagen phase. What this also means is that hair grows continuously—there’s no standard length that it will grow to. This results in lesser shedding, thanks to the prolonged cycle of the hair growth cycle.

However, to balance out this advantage is the fact that you’ll need to get your doggo groomed more frequently to maintain the length of his hair and maintain it!

Different Textures

Smoother, finer and longer than fur (in most cases, at least!), hair can be curly, straight or wavy, just as it is in humans! And just as it is with us, curly hair is a magnet for tangles, and even worse for dogs, dander. It is this dander that leads to allergies, and not dog hair itself, as is wrongly believed.

Dog breeds with hair have a single layer, as opposed to dog breeds with fur—the latter generally has two layers, namely the undercoat and topcoat. The former is softer and finer, helping regulate body temperature, while the rougher topcoat is for extra warmth and protection.

On the other hand, fur is generally denser and shorter than hair, with more follicles present per inch.

Why Does the Difference Matter?

It’s important to know the difference between fur and hair because this determines your pooch’s hypoallergenic level! Your pupper by himself or his hair/fur by itself isn’t hypoallergenic; hair and fur aren’t allergens. Any allergies arise due to this little something called dander, along with certain protein chains.

Dander refers to the skin and oil particles that get caught underneath your dog’s hair or fur. Protein chains refer to the compounds from your dog’s saliva, skin and body parts. In fact, more often, these protein chains are the actual culprits!

Dander, too, as mentioned earlier, can be a cause of allergy. When the hair or fur is shed, dander is released—as fur sheds more quickly, that means that dander is released more frequently by furry dogs. This explains why people assume furry dogs are more dangerous for allergies.

All dogs have dander, but the way their coat traps this dander can determine whether they’re hypoallergenic or not. As mentioned earlier, curly hair traps more dander than fur and tend to stay longer on your dog, clinging onto his skin, as hair doesn’t shed frequently. Thus, the dander gets trapped, unlike with fur.

Therefore, if you’re allergic to dander or suffer from allergies in general, a dog with curly hair may be a better option than a furry dog. Some pet owners have claimed to have noticed huge differences in their allergies based on a doggo’s coat!

Grooming Needs

Though your veterinarian can guide you best on your dog’s grooming needs, or a professional groomer, there are a few things you can also keep in mind:

  • Though it is a great thing that hair traps dander and dead follicles and saves you the trouble of frequent vacuuming, it’s not so great for your furkid! The trapped hair will cause knotting and matting, which in turn leads to moisture and debris retention and the risk of parasites that can cause severe infections, as well as a nasty smell!
  • Hairy dogs should be regularly brushed to get rid of any trapped material. This is good for your pet and you—bathing prevents matting, which is good for your pet, and it reduces the number of allergens, which is good for you!
  • That being said, don’t bathe your dog too frequently, as this will strip his or her skin of healthy natural oils.
  • Don’t neglect to brush a furry dog as you still need to remove debris and take off all the dead hair that would otherwise find homes in every corner of the house your dog walks through! Remember, even furry dogs are prone to knots and matted hair; ensure you use a brush that can reach through to the lower coat.

The Final Word

It doesn’t matter if you have a furry dog or a hairy dog; the fur or hair isn’t going to have your allergies in a tizzy—it’s the number of protein chains and dander present that will determine whether your dog is hypoallergenic or not.

However, with efficient grooming, you can control the shedding and dander to a great extent, so be prepared to invest the time and energy for it. If you’re planning to get a dog but don’t know if you’ll be allergic, spend some time with both furry dogs and hairy dogs to see which one you’re more comfortable around.