Is Grey Hair a Sign of Bad Health?


Hi Dr. Barchas,

I have a female Lab/Golden cross who just turned four years old. Her fur is a light golden color. I have noticed that the fur on her face, around her eyes and on her muzzle, is already starting to lighten up and turn white. I didn’t expect this to happen until she was much older.

Is this considered pre-mature graying? Does the age at which Labs and Goldens start turning gray tell us anything about how long they will live? (Since she is already turning gray at four years old does that tell me she will live a shorter than average life for her breed?)

San Diego, CA

I am reminded of a joke I once heard. A young child asks his mother why she has grey hairs. The mother replies that every time the child causes her stress, one of her hairs turns grey. The child ponders this for a moment. He then asks, “why is Grandma’s hair all grey?”

In fact, grey hairs occur when the pigment producing cells in the hair follicle cease to function. This can happen at any age. It is not a sign of poor health or premature aging. Grey hairs do not indicate that an animal will have a shorter-than-average life.

Grey hairs are correlated with old age, but they can develop in youth as well. My pal Buster, whose life appears to be stress-free, grew his first grey hair when he was less than two. Thankfully, this does not mean that he has a decreased life expectancy.

Plenty of young people have learned through experience that grey hairs are a fact of life. A trip to the hair care aisle in Walgreens will give you some idea of how many people are dyeing their greys.

Your dog’s greys are not a sign of bad health. Nor will they damage her self esteem. Lucky her.

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