The Difference Between Dog Fur and Dog Hair

Dog fur and dog hair have some important differences.
Dog fur and dog hair have some important differences. / LSOphoto/iStock via Getty Images

If you’re a dog lover who’s ever dealt with allergies, you’ve probably heard of the idea that certain dog breeds may be “hypoallergenic,” or less prone to provoking a leaky nose in owners. Some believe this comes down to whether the pet has dog fur vs. dog hair.

The truth? There is a difference between fur and hair, but the way it affects allergies may not be what you’d expect.

Both fur and hair are both—well, hair. Each is made up of keratin, and each grows out of hair follicles. The difference has to do with how each strand behaves.

Dogs who have a fur coat (Golden Retrievers, Jack Russell terriers) tend to have shorter, coarser hairs that are fine in texture, often with two layers—a top coat and a soft undercoat that helps them maintain a comfortable body temperature. Fur coats also tend to shed more and disperse in the air with shorter growth cycles.

Dogs with hair (poodles, Border Collies) tend to have longer coats that take on shape, like curls. It’s longer, and it goes through growth and shed phases. It may also feel softer than fur.

So what does this mean for people with allergies? Contrary to popular belief, dogs with hair aren’t inherently hypoallergenic. That’s because what provokes allergies is typically the dander (skin particles) and dried saliva present on a dog’s coat, not the hair itself. Every dog harbors dander, so that’s not going to solve anyone’s problem.

What hair does do is contain dander better than fur. Dogs with hair tend to shed less, as well as trap shedding hair in their coat, preventing dander from becoming airborne. Dogs with fur tend to release these allergens more readily, as their coats are shorter and they shed on furniture and other surfaces.

Regular brushing and grooming is important for dogs with hair or fur to prevent matting and clumping—though maybe not by someone with allergies.