Why Your Puppy Gets White or Gray Hair (9 Things to Know)
Most humans sigh when they spot their first white or gray hair. The first flush of youth is over, and the mirror tells you that the winter of your old age is coming.
There are plenty of reasons why your puppy grows white or gray hairs without premature aging.
1. Natural Colors and Patterns
For many breeds, white and gray hairs form part of the natural range of colors – collies are typically black and white, and Maltese terriers are all white.
Your puppy grows into its adult coat, and some color changes are dramatic but natural.
However, if you bought a black lab pup, you have a reasonable expectation of having a black Labrador.
What if your previously black puppy develops white or gray hairs?
Is that normal?
2. What Causes White or Gray Hairs In Puppies?
The common reasons for your puppy growing white or gray hairs, apart from aging, include:
- Poor health.
Premature white hair or a full head of gray hair in humans is a regular event.
Most people have a friend who went white or gray naturally at an early age, and some children are born with a distinct white streak as a family characteristic.
Some breeds have a genetic disposition to go gray or white (age-related), and the contrast on a previously black puppy is striking.
Although some dogs go through life without gray hair in sight, some puppies can start to develop age-related gray hairs around the muzzle as young as two years.
Some breeds carry a chromosome that will take a black puppy and progressively turn its hair gray as it moves from being a puppy to an adult; with this dark to gray color change, the breeds include poodles, Schnauzers, and Irish Wolfhounds.
Black Chihuahuas may carry the dilution gene, which means that the black puppy will fade to gray or white – entirely or in a pattern.
If you buy a black chihuahua puppy, look at the parents and ask to see pictures of the grandparents and other litters.
Your puppy’s genetic heritage is a strong indicator of the potential for your German Shepherd puppy or Yorkie puppy to develop gray and white patterns.
Stressed or anxious puppies develop age-related graying sooner than their more relaxed peers.
If your chocolate lab puppy has high levels of separation anxiety, it can start to develop gray or white hairs around its muzzle.
Medical studies show that stress interferes with the formation of melanin, resulting in white or gray hairs at any age. Stress and anxiety can cause white hairs in humans and puppies.
If you notice your lab puppy developing a gray muzzle, it may be worth trying to reduce your puppy’s level of stress and anxiety.
Helping your puppy adopt a calm and relaxed attitude is better for its health and longevity.
Vitiligo is a painless skin condition thought to be hereditary that causes pigment loss in hair and skin.
It is rare, but you may get it in your pedigree Rottweiler puppy or German Shepherd puppy. Other breeds with a tendency to have Vitiligo are Old English Sheep Dogs, Belgian Tervuren, and Dachshund.
Your vet has no treatment for this painless condition.
Your options are to have the depigmented skin covered with a tattoo (by a vet, not a human tattoo parlor) and reduce stress.
Your vet will carry out tests to ensure that the vitiligo is an inherited condition and not the result of an underlying medical issue.
Problems with the thyroid, liver, and kidneys may cause premature graying.
These are thankfully rare amongst puppies, and you will probably spot other symptoms before noticing the gray or white hairs.
If your puppy has thyroid problems, you will see weight gain, tiredness, and a sensitivity to being cold.
Problems with livers tend to cause weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting, and kidney issues come with increased thirst and excessive peeing.
These health issues are more common in adult dogs, but ingesting toxins can cause your puppy liver and kidney problems.
3. Do Designer Dog Breeds Get More Gray or White Hairs?
Most designer dog breeds involve a poodle in the mix, and popular crosses include the Goldendoodle, Labradoodle, and the Cavoodle.
A Goldendoodle puppy has a Golden Retriever and a Poodle for parents. The potential to gain white or gray hairs comes from the poodle, and poodles tend to get a lighter coat as they age.
The appearance of gray or white hairs on your Goldendoodle is likely a natural genetic result.
A Labrador retriever pup does not have the gene for a gray coat. However, create a labradoodle puppy, and you have the potential for a gray or white coat from the poodle half of the family tree.
The poodle is one of the rare purebreds (fourteen) to carry the graying gene.
The labradoodle puppy starts dark and clears to gray, but it is a lottery if you want this color. Your breeder can stack the odds in your favor, but there are no guarantees that your puppy has the graying gene.
The Cavoodle puppy (aka Cavapoo) is highly popular because it is cute and hypoallergic.
Although the poodle in the mix gives the option of a white coat, you are more likely to get a few white patches coming in as your Cavoodle puppy moves to its adult coat.
Gray is a rare appearance on a Cavoodle puppy but theoretically possible because of the poodle in the mix.
The Blue Merle Cavoodle is one of the rarest color combinations and is most likely to have associated risks of health issues.
4. Fading or Clearing
When your puppy’s coat fades to gray or clears to white, it is a natural part of your puppy’s growth.
Poodles and other breeds of puppy have the potential to make this dramatic color change from black to blue or gray. A cream puppy may clear to a white.
Although a puppy may maintain its puppy coloration into adulthood, most puppies have some changes to puppy fur texture and color.
5. What Are the Breeds with the Gray or Fading Gene?
For your puppy to go gray, it only needs one copy of the graying gene from one of its parents.
The graying gene means your puppy starts with a dark coat that progressively, over a few months (or years in some cases), fades to gray or includes gray and white hairs; this gene only appears in breeds with wiry, curly, or long coats.
The fourteen breeds with the graying gene include:
- Poodles – all varieties.
- Irish Wolfhound.
- Old English Sheepdog.
- Polish Lowland Sheepdog.
- Bearded Collie.
- Tibetan Terrier.
- Bedlington terrier.
- Cesky Terrier.
- Dandy Dinmont Terrier.
- Kerry Blue Terrier.
- Glen of Imaal Terrier.
- Basset Griffon Vendeen.
Other breeds have natural gray coats (Grayhound, for example) but don’t display this fading to gray.
Puppies with one of these breeds in the mix may fade to gray as they mature.
6. What About White Hairs?
Some breeds are members of the white club:
- Samoyed – working dog from Siberia.
- Maltese terrier – famous for its silky white coat.
- West Highland White Terrier.
- American Eskimo – formerly the German Spitz.
- Bichon Frise – not always pure white.
- Great Pyrenees – a giant herding dog.
- Coton de Tulear – originally from Madagascar.
- Bolognese from Bologna is similar to the Bichon.
- Dogo Argentino – may have a pirate patch over one eye.
- Japanese Spritz – relatively rare.
- Komondor – a Hungarian dog with a unique coat.
- Kuvasz – another Hungarian dog similar in shape to a retriever.
- White Swiss Shepherd – near-identical in appearance to a German Shepherd.
Other dog breeds have occasional white puppies – boxers, for example – but the dog breeds listed above have a natural white coat as standard.
Some dog breeds (Poodle, French bulldog, and Afghan hound) have a white version in the color range.
Many other puppies develop white hairs as part of their markings on the body and face. The kennel clubs are meticulous about specifying where white hairs can appear on pedigree puppies.
Your puppy is most likely to gain white hair as part of its genetic heritage.
In later life, as your pet ages, you may see white hairs creating a salt and pepper effect on a previously dark muzzle, face, or ears.
Your black puppy may develop white patches or the occasional white speckling as part of its growth.
Unless there are associated symptoms of illness or stress, these white hairs are not concerning.
7. Are White Puppies Less Healthy?
The white color gene has clear associations with other genes that may trigger deafness, blindness, or in the case of the West Highland Terrier, a condition known as “white shake.”
The white color isn’t the issue as many white dogs are perfectly healthy with no problem, and all white boxers are not deaf.
The underlying genetics associated with the gene for the white color is the issue, and responsible breeders check their DNA lines to breed away from these genetic conditions.
8. What Can You Do?
If your puppy is in good health, its character won’t change because it turns gray or white, and the change in appearance is purely cosmetic.
If it is important to you that you buy and keep a black chihuahua or any other breed, then you need to do your research in advance of purchasing the puppy.
The appearance of gray or white hair is mainly genetic, and the best way is to look at the parents, the grandparents, and previous litters.
Responsible breeders pay attention to their breeding genetics and will do their best to deliver a healthy puppy in your color choice.
But there are no guarantees, and if your cute puppy changes color, the best advice is to embrace the gray and love them anyway.
9. What If You Are Worried?
The unexpected appearance of white and gray hairs that aren’t associated with natural color changes may indicate stress, anxiety, or a health condition.
Your vet can help you assess the cause and advise on the best approach to treating your puppy.
Your vet is the first port of call whenever you feel worried about your puppy’s health or behavior.
Puppies mature faster than human infants, so it may seem as if there is something to worry you every week, but relax; your concerns as a responsible puppy parent are natural.
If your puppy is energetic, eating, drinking, and regularly going to the bathroom, it is probably in peak condition.
If your puppy is showing signs of illness, most vets offer a free chat before needing to see your puppy.
Many vets provide a free online chat service where you can check out potential symptoms in advance and put your mind at ease.
If your puppy develops white or gray hairs, it is probably its genetics.
Unless you buy from a certified breeder or have a complete DNA analysis, you can never be entirely sure of what genetics are in the mix.
You may adopt a puppy that looks like one breed but has a dash of one or two others that contribute a gray gene.
For a family pet, color doesn’t matter, and your puppy remains the same dog regardless of color changes.