Most pets with fur will see a range of colors during their lifetime. Have you noticed a change in the color of your cat or dog toward white or gray? While it can make pets appear older, there is likely nothing wrong with the transition.
Here are the most common reasons why animals experience the loss of color:
Reason 1: Pet’s Age
Age is the most common reasons for pets going gray. The aging process is similar to the one in humans as we age. However, unlike humans, dogs don’t tend to go gray throughout their entire coat. The majority of graying will happen around the muzzle and face. Graying usually starts with a salt-and-pepper look in dogs.
The process of going white or gray is due to the pigment cells in our hair follicles gradually dying. With fewer pigment cells in a hair follicle, each strand of hair contains much less melanin, becoming more transparent— like gray, silver, or white.
Dogs and cats with gray coats can show signs of aging, but it is more difficult to spot these changes. In addition to changes in color, coat texture changes with age as well. As pets age, the texture of an animal’s fur will different – usually coarser. Gray furred pets often turn more white than gray as they age.
Reason 2: Genetics
Some breeds of cats and dogs are genetically likely to start graying earlier, with more intensity, or in specific spots as genetics also plays a role in the process. Some humans begin to experience gray hairs in their 20s, others well into their 50s. Think of pets in the same way.
Perfectly healthy dogs can be genetically predisposed to early graying. In fact, even puppies can have graying hair before puberty, and it can start to become silvery with age.
A few breeds are more likely to be genetically predisposed to graying. Schnauzers are known for their gray beards, while greyhounds and Weimaraners are naturally gray in color. It is also common for black dogs to start showing gray earlier than lighter colored dogs, specifically on the muzzle and paws.
Reason 3: Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are potential causes for turning fur white. While the chemical explanation is unknown for certain, it is likely that stress causes the body to stop producing pigment in the same manner as it used to as part of an evolutionary trait.
If you are unsure of whether or not stress or anxiety are causing problems for change of coloration, you can speak to your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist to what you can do to reduce the stress in your pet’s life.
Reason 4: Vitiligo
Sometimes, the reason a pet’s fur is turning white is a condition call vitiligo.
Vitiligo is a rare skin condition that can cause pigment loss in certain patches of skin and fur. While the causes of vitiligo are unspecified, many scientists believe that the condition is genetic. However, it is clear that vitiligo occurs when something happens to the melanin-producing cells in your cat or dog’s body.
Vitiligo affects all pets differently. Some will lose pigmentation on their entire body, while others will only be affected in certain spots. Depigmentation can also spread over the first few months of the condition’s appearance. Vitiligo can also cause skin lesions and dandruff. Fortunately, vitiligo is painless and only cosmetic.
While vitiligo is exceptionally rare, the following breeds are more likely to experience it:
- Belgian Tervuren
- German Shepherd
- Old English Sheepdog
Vitiligo is also more common in purebred pets due to the hereditary nature of the condition.
Other Health Issues
There are a few health issues that might cause your pet to start graying earlier or faster than normally expected.
One of the common health conditions is hypothyroidism.
Pets with hypothyroidism have underperforming thyroid glands. Hypothyroidism also causes a variety of other symptoms including weight gain and skin problems. Getting your cat or dog proper treatment for hypothyroidism should reverse the graying of the fur as a side-benefit of treating the illness.
Liver and kidney disease can also cause graying in rare cases.
However, this is a very rare symptom of these diseases. The reason that these diseases lead to graying fur is that the toxins aren’t being removed from the pet’s body fast enough. Treating the underlying condition can reverse the graying.
Putting Your Pet’s Health First
If your dog or cat appears to be graying unexpectedly, schedule a visit with Banning Vet for a checkup. If there are other symptoms of low energy or change of behavior, an urgent visit is recommended for an in-person evaluation with an internal specialist.