Stress can make pets go grey

We know that cats and dogs can go grey to varying amounts in old age. It seems that dogs are more likely to go grey than cats. We don’t know why, if this is indeed what is happening.

However, recent research also indicates that stress can also make dogs and cats go grey. Well, I have added cats into that sentence but in truth recent research on this concerned dogs only. This is not untypical. Dogs are far more often the subject of research studies than cats which leaves us knowing less about cats than dogs. You only have to read the newspapers regularly to see that there are far more research studies on dogs than there are on cats.

Old Cat
Old Cat. 20. Photo Diti the penguin
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A recent study found that there was a direct correlation between a dog’s anxiety and a tendency to go prematurely grey. The grey hairs are apparent around and on a dog’s muzzle.

Four hundred dogs aged between one and four were photographed. The owners were asked whether they pet’s behaviour indicated anxiety such as destroying rooms when left alone, cowering in response to large groups of people and being afraid of sounds et cetera.

The pictures of the dogs were then rated for greyness. It was found that calm and confident dogs were less likely to have greying muzzles than dogs who displayed hyperactive behaviour and anxiety.

The study was conducted by Dr Camille King an animal behaviourist in Denver Colorado. She was in fact the lead author on a paper published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

For some time she has believed that dogs go grey due to stress just like humans. Note how President Obama’s hair has greyed up over the duration of his presidency.

“I’ve long had a suspicion that dogs with higher levels of anxiety and impulsiveness also show increased muzzle greyness.”

The question now is whether cats go grey in the same way. My feeling is that cats do indeed go grey in the same way but to a lesser extent. If this is true then the cat’s well-known independence and/or laid-back approach to life may be a factor. However, cat caretakers should not be complacent. People can create an unsuitable environment for a domestic cat without necessarily realising it.

Cat owners should always strive to create as calm and as natural an environment as possible for their cats in which they are able to express their natural desires. Of course cats vary in their character. Timid cats are more likely to be anxious. I wonder, therefore, if timid cats are more likely to have a greying muzzle when elderly. No one has researched that.

I have seen elderly cats with grey muzzles but far less so than for dogs.


6 thoughts on “Stress can make pets go grey”

  1. Yet another brilliant insight by my favorite cat guy, Michael. Cats do suffer from anxiety, perhaps more than dogs, and likely degrade physically. And because they are not studied as much as dogs, it’s a vicious cycle. I had a black cat (Pete) whose whiskers turned white as his health failed. Though I provided a loving and stress-free life, I believe his sickness stressed him psychologically, manifesting in this “greying” in the muzzle area and ear hairs. I’m sure of it because he was a very sensitive cat emotionally.


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