Few of us are lucky enough to enter the onset of old age – or a lot earlier in many cases – without sprouting the odd grey hair, and your dog is no different. Whilst not all dogs go grey with age, most do to some extent – and this may mean a little greying around the eyes and muzzle, or a more uniform encroachment of grey hair throughout the coat. Greying fur in the dog tends to develop slowly over time, and the older the dog, the more likely their coat is to show their years!
However, old age is not the only thing that can cause your dog’s coat to turn white, and particularly if your dog is not very old, you should consider looking into other reasons for why this might be happening.
In this article we will explain why both human hair and dog fur turn white, and look at some of the potential reasons behind your dog turning grey. Read on for more information.
Dog fur turns white or grey thanks to the same biological processes that cause human hair to do the same, and this comes down to the chemical structure of the fur and its colouration itself.
The colour of your dog’s fur is dictated by the melanin levels in it – and coloured fur is rich in melanin that gives it its signature colour. White or grey hair has a lot less melanin, and melanin is one of the compounds that our bodies don’t produce and synthesise as effectively as we get older, leading to the new hair growing in being grey or white. This is perfectly normal, and can also be highly variable – and we all know people of around the same age who have vastly differing amounts of grey in their hair, which comes down to basic genetics.
The same is true for dogs – some dogs will go grey earlier and more prolifically than others, and having a significant degree of variation between different dogs, even of the same breed, is not uncommon.
The chances are that as your dog starts to get older, they will develop their first grey hairs. Most dogs have at least a couple of grey hairs by the time they are aged five or six, and for many dogs, those first few grey hairs will appear well before this.
Interestingly, large and giant dog breeds like the Great Dane tend to age at a faster rate – and so, go grey sooner – than smaller breeds, and regardless of the age or size of your dog, they are most likely to start to go grey on their face and muzzle first. You might also find that these grey hairs have a slightly different texture too, often being a little thicker, rougher and coarser than the surrounding hair – albeit often giving your dog a very distinguished appearance!
How fast the progression of grey develops – and when it first becomes noticeable – is something that can nonetheless be variable, and there is no set norm in this regard.
Whilst your dog’s white or greying fur is most likely to develop as a normal side effect of their aging process, there are also a number of health conditions and anomalies that can lead to greying as well – and it is particularly important to investigate these if your dog is younger than the norm when they start to go grey, and/or if the greying happens very quickly.
If your younger dog is going very grey on the face and muzzle in particular, this might indicate an issue like hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, or compromised functionality of the kidneys and liver. Issues like this usually cause changes to the texture of your dog’s fur too, and may also generate a range of other systemic or subtle symptoms that might be hard to miss on their own, but that viewed altogether, can provide a pointer.
If you have any concerns, arrange a consult with your dog’s vet and provide your vet with as much information as possible on when you first started to notice the change, and any other potential symptoms – even if they appear to be unrelated.
Some dogs are of course white or grey coated from the get-go, which means you’re less likely to spot changes to the coat and fur itself. However, coat texture changes can indicate the onset of aging, and a grey dog may also grow white hairs and vice versa too.
Dogs with white and light grey coats don’t have as much melanin in their fur to start with, and will also be more sensitive to the sun and problems like sunburn, which makes checking their coat and skin regularly for changes to the texture or condition just as important – if not more so – than for other dogs.