As a pet parent with an adopted dog, you might not know your dog's exact age. And now his hair, especially around his muzzle, is turning gray. Does a gray muzzle mean he's becoming a senior dog? Or is it a sign that something is wrong?
Gray hair on a dog's face and around his muzzle is a natural occurrence as he ages — just like turning gray is a natural occurrence for humans. Because dogs age faster than humans, they turn gray sooner than their pet parents. And just like humans, some dogs turn gray much earlier in life than others.
Behavior and Health Link
While typically a sign of an aging dog, a gray muzzle can also be found in dogs as young as one year old. A study of 400 dogs, published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, discovered that dogs that experience high levels of anxiety, are impulsive or have fearful responses to strange people, animals and noises are linked to premature graying — not much different to when you hear people say things like, "you're the reason I am going gray."
A graying muzzle may also indicate a health issue. For instance, premature graying of the muzzle is one sign your dog might have hypothyroidism. Because it could be health-related, you should consult with your veterinarian if your dog starts graying.
Typically, a graying muzzle or face is a sign your dog is entering his senior years. Typically, dogs enter their senior years between the ages of seven and ten, but depending on your dog's size it might be even younger. For instance, giant breed dogs (those that weight 91 pounds or more) can be considered senior by the time they turn five, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Small and medium breeds (up to 50 pounds) can be considered a senior at around age seven. Genetics plays a large roll in the graying process of your dog as certain breeds or lineages have a predisposition for graying earlier than others. It's also a lot easier to notice a gray muzzle on a dog with darker hair than say a West Highland white terrier.
Dogs that have reached their senior years may benefit from switching to a senior dog food. While it doesn't reverse the causes of graying in your dog, the best senior formulated dog foods offer a nutritional formula that works to ease the effects of aging. For instance, Hill's™ Science Diet™ Youthful Vitality was developed with the changing biology of pets ages seven and above in mind. The breakthrough nutrition found in the Science Diet™ food is made with Hill's proprietary recipe of natural ingredients including fruits, vegetables, fatty acids and antioxidants plus added vitamins, minerals and amino acids — all of which work together to fight the effects of aging. Its formula is designed to help with brain function, energy and vitality and healthy immune and digestive systems. It also includes essential fatty acids that promote a coat with increased shininess and softness.
Going gray — for whatever reason — might give your dog a new look. But he will still thrive on the same love and attention he's always wanted from you!
Kara Murphy is a freelance writer and pet parent who lives in Erie, Pa. She has a goldendoodle named Maddie.