Going gray is a natural sign of aging in humans and man's best friend.
My mother likes to remind me on almost a weekly basis that more than half of the grey hairs on her head are my fault. While most people don’t begin to develop greying hair until they're well into their late 50s and early 60s, there are some factors that can speed up the process, allowing people as young as their later 20s and early 30s experience premature greying.
But as it turns out, humans aren’t the only ones that are experiencing premature aging. If your dog has gotten grey in the face before their time, stress could be the culprit.
World-renowned animal scientist Temple Gradin has revealed in Applied Animal Behavior Science that the premature greying in dogs may be caused by stress. It could be a symptom of anxiety.
Gradin initiated the study after reports from animal behaviorist Camille King tied anxious dogs to premature greying. She compared this animal behavior to many past U.S. presidents that have experienced severe signs of aging before and after entering office.
The study was conducted at Northern Illinois University and kept track of 400 dogs under the age of four. To ensure accurate results, only dogs with darker-colored hair were used in the study.
The dogs’ owners were asked to fill out questionnaires regarding their pets' anxiety levels in certain situations, such as being left alone for long periods of time. People were unaware that researchers were looking for anxiety triggers as they filled out the form.
Using photographs of the animals, Gradin and her team of researchers developed a scoring system to measure the degree of greyness. They then examined their muzzles and gave each animal a score of zero to three, where zero meant no grey at all and three meant fully grey.
Researchers noted correlation between stress levels and advancement of greying.
Co-author of the study and professor at Northern Illinois University Thomas Smith was skeptical at first, but once he saw the results, he was amazed by the apparent connection.
Gradin and her team hope to research their animal theory further and determine if other mammals experience the same stress-driven greying that both humans and dogs do.
While Matt Kaeberlein, a professor and co-director of the University of Washington's Dog Aging Project, appreciates many aspects of the new study, he is quick to note that stress and anxiety may not always be the cause of premature greying in humans or dogs. Genetics may also play a role.