Stress Can Cause Dogs to Go Gray, Scientists Find

Not unlike humans, dogs see the detrimental effects of stress—including, a new study revealed, premature graying.

Researchers at Northern Illinois University studied about 400 dogs between the ages of 1 and 4-years-old. The owners of the dogs, who were unaware of the purpose of the study so to prevent biased answers, completed a questionnaire measuring signs of anxiety and impulsive behaviors (e.g., persistent barking, jumping). Owners also submitted photographs of their dogs. Lighter-colored and merled dogs were eliminated from the study because it was too difficult for researchers to differentiate gray hairs from their normal coat color.

The researchers, who recently published their findings in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, discovered that young dogs who displayed signs of anxiety were more likely to have graying of the muzzle. Also, female dogs were more likely to go gray at a young age than males, but other factors, including spay/neuter status and size, did not seem to have an effect.

The scientists believe veterinary-health professionals could use this information to spot and treat anxiety and behavior problems early on. “If dog professionals (veterinarians, applied behaviorists, dog trainers, etc.) are able to note premature graying in their assessments and/or training, then these dogs might be assessed more thoroughly for anxiety/impulsivity/fear problems and, if necessary, started on behavior modification programs earlier in their developmental life stages,” the author writes.

Signs of anxiety may not be limited to the more obvious indications, like cowering and shaking. Other surprising signs a dog may be stressed include shedding, humping, and yawning.

If you think your dog may be experiencing anxiety, speak to your veterinarian or contact the AKC GoodDog! Helpline for guidance.

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