Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. This means that we may receive a small commission, at no additional cost to you, should you decide to purchase products using our links.
A family friend owns a chocolate Lab, Rocco, that loves to play with Molly. Recently, Rocco’s luscious black coat has begun to turn white. We assumed it is due to Rocco’s age, but there can be other reasons for a chocolate Lab turning white.
Your chocolate Lab could be turning white due to aging, which is the most common reason for graying hair. Other causes could be stress, genetics, or another underlying health issue. Vitiligo can also cause dogs’ hair to turn white, but it’s a rare condition and is not the most likely cause.
You should understand the various causes in detail to better understand which may apply to your dog. It’s also critical that you have a sense of when your vet should get involved. Identifying potential issues early can make a big difference in the long-term health of your Lab.
Exploring What Causes Chocolate Labs to Turn White
Several biological and other factors can affect your pup’s appearance and overall health. Some of those changes can include loss of pigment causing graying or white hair.
Five reasons chocolate Labs turn white:
- The Natural Aging Process
- Health Conditions
It’s easy to forget that our four-legged friends go through the same kinds of aging processes as we do. However, it’s a little more complicated than just multiplying the dog’s age by seven.
The Natural Aging Process
The most common reason for your chocolate Lab’s hair to turn white is its age. Just like humans, the color of your Lab’s hair can change over time. However, graying typically occurs on and around dogs’ faces first, rather than across the entire body.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA), dogs are considered senior citizens at around 6-7 years of age, depending on the breed, with Labs meeting this threshold at about seven years old.
You should expect your Lab’s hair to start graying by the time he reaches his senior years, but just like with people, there are many variations in the timing and extent of these physical changes.
For example, owners on the Just Labradors forum reported this change in hair color in pups as young as two years old! However, the average age for your Lab to begin graying is around 5.
As they age, dogs (and humans) produce less of the pigments that produce hair colors. However, this process may stop well before we see the effects on the hair, as the pigments in hair degrade slower than the melanin that colors our skin.
This transition from a rich brown coat to a silver fox is nothing to be worried about; it’s just a new look for your pup.
Stress can cause all sorts of physical responses and weigh on our bodies, and dogs are no exception. According to a research study at Northern Illinois University, stress and anxiety can cause premature graying in dogs.
Another study found a relationship between premature graying on the face and anxiety and impulsivity.
These trends are like what has been found in humans, where undergoing stressful events can cause more gray hair.
Scientists believe this occurs because of the underlying physiological processes associated with stress, hormones, and the interactions with pigment cells in the body.
Your Lab’s genes can play a significant role in whether their hair starts to turn gray or white and when that will begin occurring. Changes in hair color may result from conditions inherited from parents.
Color dilution alopecia (CDA) causes thinning of the hair, flaky, itchy skin, and patchy hair loss. Puppies with CDA look normal but may begin to have skin and hair issues after six months. However, this condition is not commonly associated with Labrador Retrievers.
Vitiligo is also a hereditary condition that can result in your dog’s hair and skin turning white, which I’ll discuss in more detail below.
Consider investing in an at-home DNA test kit. These can reveal many of the health conditions that could contribute to early greying.
I recommend using the Embark Vet DNA test for all owners, including purebred owners to give you the best information possible to understand your dog. This eliminates guessing!
It’s super simple and can be done right at home. You simply swab the inside of their mouths and mail it off. Results come back QUICK!
Click here to receive a discount and actually know your dog’s genetic makeup!
Some health conditions can cause your Lab’s hair to change color, so it’s essential to be aware of these potential problems.
- Hypothyroidism – This is a fairly common condition in several breeds of dogs, including Labrador Retrievers. Dogs aged 4-10 are most at risk. Hypothyroidism can cause hair loss, a dull and thinning coat, and flaky skin. Other symptoms include weight gain, muscle loss, lethargy, and ear infections.
- Cushing’s Syndrome – This condition is due to an overproduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and it can cause skin and hair problems and premature graying around the muzzle and face. Other symptoms of Cushing’s include increased hunger and thirst, excessive panting, fatigue, and lethargy.
- Liver or Kidney Disease – Graying hair is a rare symptom of these conditions that can occur due to the buildup of toxins in the body. If this is the case, a vet would likely identify the problem before the hair color begins to change, but it is still a potential cause.
This is a rare skin condition that causes depigmentation in cats, dogs, and humans. In addition, vitiligo can cause skin and hair to turn white.
This color loss happens when melanocytes (cells that produce the pigment melanin) die or are otherwise destroyed. Once these cells are gone, the skin and hair color will disappear, causing a white appearance.
Vitiligo on its own is a harmless condition, so there’s no need to worry about your pet. However, a vet needs to check whether it’s an underlying problem like an autoimmune disease or exposure to toxins.
There are two types of vitiligo:
- Focal vitiligo – loss of pigment just around the nose; “snow nose.”
- Generalized vitiligo – loss of pigment all around the body; “snowflake.”
The thing to remember is that this condition is purely cosmetic, and as long as there are no underlying health problems to address, you can continue to treat your Lab the same as always.
What You Can Do About Your Chocolate Lab Turning White
There’s nothing you can do to stop the effects of time and prevent your chocolate Lab from aging. It will likely go through some changes in appearance as it ages. Similarly, you can’t fight genes or hereditary conditions.
However, if your chocolate Lab suddenly begins turning white, you should always see a veterinarian first to rule out any severe conditions or other health concerns. If your pup is healthy, you should focus on supporting him through his golden years.
Since research has found that chocolate Labs are more prone to some health problems and may not live as long as black or yellow Labs, it’s even more important to maintain regular check-ups and do your part to help your dog lead a healthy life.
You can prevent premature graying by paying attention to cues from your dog that he may be feeling stressed or having anxiety since this can contribute to gray hair.
It’s not unusual for dogs to go gray over time, especially around their muzzles and faces.
However, widespread changes in color can indicate other underlying issues. Most causes for your chocolate Lab turning white are cosmetic and nothing to worry about, but it’s always a good idea to see a vet for any sudden changes in your dog’s appearance.
- National Institute of Health: NIH researchers reframe dog-to-human aging comparisons
- AKC: Stress can cause dogs to go gray, scientists find
- AMVA: Senior pet care FAQ
- Library of Congress: Why does hair turn gray?
- AARP: Why does hair turn gray as you age?
- Scientific American: About that premature graying
- Fetch by WebMD
- VCA: Color dilution alopecia in dogs
- US National Library of Medicine: Skin melanocytes biology and development
- AAHA: Study: Coat color could mean reduced longevity, increased health risks in some labrador retrievers