You like soft things, we like soft things, and if you’re reading this going “I don’t like soft things,” your friends probably have some questions for you. But of all the animals that are soft, there’s gotta be one with the best coat. Which one is it, though? What is the softest animal?
If you were thinking of something really cute and now want to bite it: Why Do People Want to Bite or Crush Cute Things?
What Makes Stuff Soft?
If you go out and ask the internet “what makes fur soft,” you’ll probably get redirected to “why is cat fur soft?” Which is kind of funny, because spoiler alert, cats are not the softest animal. We can use them as a nice benchmark though.
Big picture, your perception of touch and position comes from the somatosensory system which means it also governs how soft you think stuff is going to be. A lot of this information is actually processed in your spinal cord before it makes it to your brain for you to say “hey, this is soft” or “hey, this hurts.” The primary reason isn’t because there’s a base instinct for what we find soft though–some qualities vary between cultures. It’s more so you can get away from bad stuff without thinking about it. If you put your hand on a hot stove, you recoil before you even think about it. Imagine if you had to go through the whole “oh this feels hot, wait, this feels too hot, no wait this actually hurts me” before you actually decided to take your hand off. The burn would be way worse.
Anyway, softness. One of the big things, in respect to fur, is fiber diameter. The smaller it is, the more likely people are to perceive it as soft. Think of it as having a finer coat on your pet. Combined with some natural oils, this is probably why you might describe your cat as “silky.” It also helps to have dense fur, a lot of individual strands packed together will feel like it has more give than just like two spread out. More on that in a second.
Resistance to deformity is pretty important too–you perceive your pillow as soft because when you touch it it has some give. The more technical term is “compliance.” Unless you sleep with your head on a rock, in which case more power to you. Generally speaking, things are softer when they are more compliant than your own finger.
The Softest Animal
You’d think there would be a lot more subjectivity to this one, but when it comes to fur you’re going to be hard pressed in beating out the chinchilla. Their fur is super dense, and that’s one of the primary reasons chinchillas are widely considered some of the softest furry animals around. They’re so soft they’re now super endangered thanks to poaching. We’re talking 90% population loss over the last 15 years. It doesn’t help that chinchillas are super small–a full-length coat requires something like 150 chinchilla pelts.
Okay, but how soft are chinchillas? Very. You, a human, have about one to two hairs per hair follicle on your skin. Chinchillas, though? They have 60-100 hairs per follicle. It’s this density that give chinchillas their softness–and their defense mechanism. You might hear that chinchillas are immune to fleas because their fur is so dense it kills fleas. That’s kind of true–it is the reason fleas and other parasites are exceedingly rare in chinchillas. They can still get fleas though.
However, the fur density also means chinchillas can’t really get wet. Their fur doesn’t dry well so they get hypothermia or fungal infections. That’s why you give them dust baths instead.
Speaking of soft, what about soft kitties and that weird song about them here?