Just Like People, Dogs Go Grey Under Stress

Image via Disney.
Image via Disney.

As one of the few good things that humans have incorporated into their lives (the other two are television and BBQ), dogs deserve a stress-free life of treats, walks, and happiness. But when that’s not the case and they do get stressed, their fur can prematurely turn grey, just like human hair.


In a study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, animal science expert Temple Grandin, along with co-authors Camille King, Thomas J. Smith, and Peter Borchelt, “examined the association of anxiety and impulsivity with premature muzzle grayness among young dogs.” Using a sample group of dogs ages 1-4, they looked at factors like time left alone, anxiety around groups of people, and hair loss during vet exams.

“Essentially, the results indicate that for each standard deviation increase in the measured trait, either anxiety or impulsiveness, the odds of being in a higher rating category of muzzle grayness increase 40% to 65%,” Thomas Smith, a professor at Northern Illinois University’s Department of Educational Technology where the study was performed, told CNN.

It was study co-author King, an animal behaviorist, who first thought to look into premature greyness in dogs and brought the idea to Grandin’s attention:

“The first thing I thought of when she told me that were the presidents, and how they age and get prematurely gray,” said Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University, referring to American commanders in chief.

“The fact that presidents turn prematurely gray was one of the things that made me encourage her to do the study,” Grandin said. “Basically, (the study findings) validated what she had seen in years of doing dog behavior work.”

“There are a few things about this study that I really like,” says University of Washington professor and co-director of the Dog Aging Project Matt Kaeberlein (who, CNN notes, was not involved with the study). “One is that it nicely illustrates another way in which dogs and humans are similar, specifically in this case, the way we interact with our environment to experience stress.”

Owning a dog is one way to turn your hair grey—but it turns out the stress (and the rewards!) might go both ways. Now go get your dog a massage!

Managing Editor, Jezebel



I picked up a “foster” Sheltie the other day. Foster is in quotes, because he is so not going anywhere. He’s a “bi-blue” — meaning predominantly grey. And very, very serious. So, I made the joke that he was grey from stress, and the lady from rescue laughed and said he started out as a sable. Our quips were slightly ahead of the curve.

For reference: (The “foster,” who was called Jordie, but informs me he is actually a Winston.)

See, serious.

And a Sable (when referring to a Sheltie) is brown. Lassie colors. So, for reference, the “foster’s” brother, Copper.

And my dachshund, Violet, who really did go grey fast, but is a giver of stress more than a recipient.

Oh, and I discovered just the other night I can no longer watch Homeward Bound. I used to always weep at the end, but the ugly cry started about 10 minutes in this time. That’s the difference between being a young woman with her first dog and a middleaged broad with a lot of dogs who’ve gone on, including that original dog.