In this article we’ll explain the difference between hair and fur; discuss the allergies some people have to pets; talk about fur color and patterns,and explain the right way to bathe and groom your pet.


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What Is The Difference Between Pet Fur and Hair?


Essentially hair and fur are the same.   Both are made of keratin, a protein found in skin and nails, and both grow out of the same kind of hair follicle. In pets, fur tends to be shorter, finer, and more tightly packed together.  Hair, on the other hand, tends to be longer and thicker, less densely packed, and grows beyond the length of fur forming a protective layer of warmth and water resistance over the pet.


Why Does My Pet’s Fur Stand Up When He’s Mad?


Each pet hair is attached to a tiny muscle inside the hair follicle. When the pet is angry or afraid, the muscle, called the erector pilus, contracts and the hair stands erect. Typically this happens most noticeably to the hairs along the pet’s spine. You can think of a spooky Halloween cat image for a mental picture of what we’re talking about. The added volume is evolution’s way of creating a scarier looking animal and to ward off potential foes or predators.  Here’s more information on the topic of ‘piloerection’. The erector pili (the plural form of erector pilus) also contract when the pet is cold to create a layer of insulating air between the skin and the outside of the pet’s coat. This keeps the pet drier and warmer.


The Difference Between Undercoats and Topcoats


In general both dogs and cats have an undercoat, comprised of fur, and a topcoat comprised of longer hairs, but there are plenty of exceptions. Hairless cats, like the Egyptian Sphynx, only have a short coat of fur on their skin and short-haired dogs like the German Short-haired Pointer, all retrievers, beagles, dachshunds, and chihuahuas only have an outer coat of hair. Here is a link to more dogs that have only one coat of hair.


Four Stages of Hair Growth in Pets


There are four phases to the growth cycle of hair and fur in pets:


  • Anagen:  At this stage, the hair is actively growing
  • Catagen:The stage at which the hair is fully grown
  • Telogen: The stage at which the hair is fully grown, fully attached to the animal, and dormant
  • Exogen: The stage at which dormant hair begins to fall out and anagen hair growth starts anew.


What Decides What Color My Pet’s Fur Will Be?


Surprisingly, all the color in dogs and cats is created from just two kinds of color pigments, a black one and a red one. You may be asking yourself then, how is it that I have a white dog or an orange cat?   Well, there are 8 genes in dogs and cats that are responsible for telling cells how much of these pigments to produce and where to produce them.  All the color and pattern variations we see in dog and cat coats are due to the directions these genes are giving cells when the cells are producing hair.


People and Allergies to Pet Fur


Contrary to popular belief, people are not allergic to pet fur; they are allergic to a protein found in the saliva and skin of pets. When pets groom, they deposit the protein onto their hair, which, in turn, falls into the environment, comes in contact with people, and creates an allergic reaction to those who are allergic to the protein. Any skin cells (dander) that fall into the environment can also be a source of allergies in people sensitive to the protein.




When seasons change, dogs and cats shed over a period of three to four weeks. There is no such thing as a non-shedding dog or cat, but pets with one coat shed less than pets with two coats. Still all hair on animals goes through the four phases of development discussed above. That is to say that it grows, matures, stays on the pet for a period of time, falls out, and is then replaced. You can control shedding with brushing. Brushing removes dead hair, stimulates skin cells, and encourages the growth of new, healthy hair. It also helps to evenly distribute protective skin oils over the whole coat of the animal.


Should I Brush My Pet’s Fur?


Brushing is important for all animals with an over and undercoat and in animals that are having trouble grooming themselves properly (overweight cats come to mind). Brushing stimulates the skin, distributes skin oils evenly throughout the coat, removes dead hair, and prevents hair from matting. On dogs with only one coat of hair, you can use what is called a slicker brush. In pets with two coats of hair, you will need a brush that can penetrate both layers.

This is a slicker brush. It’s great for shorthaired and single coated pets. Click on image to see this brush and others like it on Amazon.

This is known as a pin brush. This works well when brushing out pets with thicker, longer coats. Click on the image to see this and others like it on Amazon

The Right Way To Brush Your Pet’s Hair


When brushing a pet with an outer and inner coat, brush towards the skin and then out in the direction of hair growth. If you encounter a mat, use a de-matting spray, allow it to sit on the mat for a minute or two, and then patiently comb it out working from the outside of the mat towards the skin in small increments. Make sure that you hold onto the base of the mat when combing to reduce irritating the skin and your pet. Never use scissors to remove a mat.  Each year, Brookfield treats a number of pets, especially cats, whose skin has been accidentally cut by an owner eager to remove a mat with scissors. If the mat needs to be cut from the pet’s coat, allow us to teach you how to do it safely.



Shampooing Your Pet


It is not necessary to shampoo any shorthaired pets, but pets with longer hair benefit from periodic shampooing. Purchase pet shampoo, not shampoo made for people. Pet formulas will be easier to rinse free from the fur and will be less likely to dry out the skin of your pet. First wet your pet with warm water, apply a small amount of shampoo, and rub it into the fur being cautious not to get the soap in your pet’s nose, mouth or eyes. After lathering, rinse your pet with warm water to remove all of the shampoo and then rub your hands over your pet’s skin to remove any excess water. You can use a wet cloth to remove the soap from your pet’s face. Towel-dry your pet. You can also blow dry your pet, but make sure that the blow drier heat level is set to low.

This is a good, safe, nourishing shampoo and conditioner for pets. Click on the image to see it and other pet shampoo products on Amazon.

Should I Condition My Pet’s Hair?

It is okay to use a pet hair conditioner on your pet, but remember that pet skin is sensitive to chemicals and to drying out. With shampoo and conditioners, less is more. Natural oils, produced in the pet’s skin, protect against skin infections and keep hair water resistant and healthy.  Too much bathing and conditioning undermines the effectiveness of this natural protection.


Should I Use a Flea Bath On My Pet?


Brookfield does not recommend the use of any medicated shampoos that are not prescribed by one of our veterinarians. Do not bathe your pet if you believe he or she is infested with fleas. An itchy pet isn’t necessarily a flea-infested pet, and shampooing is likely to only make the problem worse. If your pet is scratching, talk to us first and we’ll help you figure out the best way to make your pet feel more comfortable.


Read Dr. Silke’s article on itchy pets and what to do to relieve their symptoms


Should I Give My Puppy or Kitten a Bath?


Puppy and kitten skin is sensitive, just like a baby’s skin. Shampoos can excessively dry out your pet’s hair and fur. If you would like to clean your puppy or kitten, a wipe down with a damn cloth should be sufficient.

Additional Reading

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