Fur? Hair? What's the difference?

Foxes, mink and rabbits (and other animals) have fur. Horses, cats, dogs and humans have hair. What is the difference? Texture? Quantity? Fuzziness? Is it the number of follicles per square inch? And how does fleece, like on sheep and llamas, figure into the scheme of things?

That’s a really good question, and I’ll be interested in the answer too. First guess: fur is a collective noun, but hair can be both collective and individual?

Fur and hair are two different names for the same thing. Mammals have all kinds of fur/hair, but it is all the same stuff.

Sheep (I am not familiar with llamas to this degree) in the wild have a greasy heavy fleece that keeps them warm and dry in the winter and is shed each summer to reveal a hard hair coat like a goat’s. We selectively bred them to not shed their winter coats, essentially.

“fur” seems to be used more often for softer, finer coats, but that is just English usage and might not be what the OP question is.

There isn’t one, scientifically speaking. It’s all keratin growing out of hair follicles - hair, fur, wool, eyelashes, quills…all the same stuff.

Colloquially, sometimes hair is what doesn’t stop growing and fur grows to a certain (short) length and stops growing. Except that the hair on our arms stops growing when it’s fairly short and the fur on a collie can get many inches long.

I generally hear “fur” when relating to a double coat, with the undercoat being the fur and it sheds, while the outer coat doesn’t.

My bichon frisé dog is described as a hair dog because she doesn’t shed.

I always thought fur shedded seasonally, and hair didn’t.

Fur is the stuff that is more like fur. Hairy is more hairy.


According to Scientific American, they are the same thing:

As further evidence, it’s a little known fact that Beethoven originally called his Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor for solo piano Hair Elise.

I think of cats as having fur, except when it’s not on them. My cat is covered in fur, but I vacuum up cat hair. Is that strange?

Way back when I was learning to work with various fibers, hair meant a fiber with a hollow core and it was the core that contributed to the warmth. Angora rabbits, for example, were “hair” animals. As were llamas and alpacas and Angora goats (mohair). A wool fiber was covered with scales which helped hold the yarn together and trap air into the knitted or woven article, which is why wool gives warmth even when wet. When I skritchy-witchy my dog, he has fur. When I spin his undercoat, it’s dog hair.

This all may be spinning urban legends, so ymmv.

I never considered it before, but you’re absolutely right!

A well known biologist in The Netherlands once wrote: “A cat has 40 million hairs. 5 million on its belly, 10 million on its back and 25 million on the couch.”

Oh, my.

You just love it though.

I use “fur” as a collective, “hair” as both collective and individual. Also, generally speaking, I use “hair” when referencing humans. You don’t want to tell your date she has a nice coat of fur. I also use “fur” when the hair is soft and feels good to the touch, as opposed to “bristles” if it’s rough and harsh. Of course I use “wheat straw” when referencing other people’s hair compared to mine.

My agreement with my cats is that it’s only theirs while it’s attached to them, once it falls out, it’s mine … in return I’m allowed to keep my eyesight.

I don’t think it’s strange at all. It was the very thing I observed in myself that prompted me to ask. My cat has fur but my clothes carry cat hair.

The single-coat versus double-coat explanation makes sense to me.

If you get a chance, pet a clean horse sometime. Their hair felts like silk under your hand. Then again, I’m horribly biased and also enjoy mucking horse stalls.

I’ll be using the term “pubic fur” from now on. :wink:

I never knew Elise was a man.

It depends on whether you can distinguish between individual items
The stuff on your clothes is hair, because it is made of individual strands of hair. You can pick them off one a time.
The stuff on your cat is fur, because it’s a collective.You pet a whole bunch of them all together.
You don’t distinguish the individual strands of it while you’re petting her.

Now to confuse things:
The thing your cat horks up onto the carpet may be called a fur ball, or a hair ball.
The terms are mixed because, you don’t want to look at it closely enough to distinguish anything. :slight_smile:

In the OP, the examples of fur are all wild animals, while the examples of hair are all domesticated.

However, there are many wild animals in which it is called hair.

Maybe the distinction is in the commercial value of the fur, while an animal’s hair is of no commercial vaule, except as individual strands which may be of value when, for example, woven. Seal fur, vs. horse hair.

Sometimes, it is not called wither, such as bear-skin or sheep-skin, wtill with fur attached.