Biological Reasons Why Black Labradors Turn Brown
As mentioned earlier, a Labrador's coat color may change due to several reasons. These may either be biological or environmental factors.
The biological factors might include:
- Skin conditions
- Hormonal imbalances
Like all biological processes in animals, aging in dogs is characterized by observable changes, such as skin pigmentation. The coat color may start changing, though this may vary among different dog breeds.
So, how exactly does aging affect dogs' skin color?
As your Lab progresses to its senior years(from six or seven years on average), the number of cells responsible for pigmentation, known as melanocytes, decreases. This usually happens because the body starts focusing on more vital functions other than skin color.
However, the brown pigmentation on your Lab's coat is only an intermediary color. Your Lab will most likely end up gray due to aging, and you can't reverse it. Moreover, the color change might be evident on the dog's face earlier than other body parts.
Not all dogs will start changing color during their senior years. You might notice the brown pigmentation on your Lab earlier than their second birthday, and genetics could be the reason why.
According to the University of California Davis Vet Medicine, the Tyrosinase-related protein 1 (TRYP1) gene is responsible for the black color in Labradors. Pups inherit different combinations of gene pairs (alleles) from their parents, including B and b.
Allele B is dominant over b; hence, your Lab is black if its genetic make-up is BB or Bb.
If your pup inherited the recessive allele (b) from its parents, its coat color might start becoming lighter with age. Therefore, you might consider asking about your pup's parents before purchase or adoption. You can also purchase a DIY DNA test kit to determine your Lab's genetic pool.
If this genetic makeup is the reason your black Lab is turning brown, then you have no reason to worry as it's normal.
That said, hair pigmentation changes may also result from genetically inherited diseases like Color Dilution Alopecia (CDA). Though the condition is rare in Labs, your puppy might be suffering from CDA if you notice symptoms such as skin irritation, patchy hair loss, or hair thinning.
In this case, it's best to visit the veterinarian for management.
Changes in skin color can indicate that your Lab has a skin disorder. Depigmentation dermatoses are skin conditions that occur when your dog loses color on different body parts, including the face, belly, ear tips, or bald sections. The root cause of this disease could be an autoimmune disease (like Lupus and Vitiligo), infection, or allergy.
Your Lab's coat may turn a lighter shade and appear brown or become white depending on the severity.
Apart from the change in coat color, you may also notice some effects on the skin. If you notice these skin issues, call your vet, as they might be able to help determine the cause of the skin disorder and treatment options.
As your Lab ages, its hormonal systems become less vigorous. Your dog's change of color may arise from hormone-related depigmentation conditions. These include:
- Cushing's disease: Common among middle-aged and older dogs, the syndrome occurs when a dog's body produces too much cortisol, otherwise known as the stress hormone. Symptoms include hair loss, thinning skin, and skin irritations. Also watch for frequent panting, excessive thirst, peeing a lot, and a lack of energy.
- Jaundice: Your Lab's color might become lighter due to a yellow pigmentation condition (jaundice) which results from liver diseases. The yellow color may also appear on the ears, eyes, and gums.
Hormone-related disorders may result from various underlying conditions. You'll want to see a vet once you notice any color changes in your Lab for appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
Though skin cancer is uncommon in dogs, it can cause loss of pigmentation if it does occur. It's challenging to detect cancer in its early stages, so contact your vet if you find any discolored patches on your Lab's skin. Other signs include small bumps, rashes, and hair loss.
Environmental Reasons Why Black Labs Turn Brown
Some of the non-biological factors that cause Labs to experience color change include:
- Stress and Anxiety
Is your Lab spending too much time outdoors? Your pup is most probably sun-bleached. According to Dr. Bruce, exposing your dog to the summer sun can result in mild color changes, such as bleaching. However, the bleaching is temporary, and its fur can retain its initial color during winter.
Another study showed that UV light and high temperatures cause bleaching. Staining may also occur if your dog continually licks its paws due to sun irritation. However, these pigment changes and staining are more evident in lighter-colored dogs.
A well-balanced diet contributes to a healthy, full-colored coat. However, if your puppy isn't getting all the nutrients it requires from its diet, its color could start fading. For instance, insufficient proteins alter fur growth and diminish its quality.
The two amino acids (protein building blocks), tyrosine and phenylalanine, are responsible for producing color pigments. Therefore, a deficiency in the two results in discoloration. Your pup's color can also fade if its diet lacks other nutrients like copper, iron, iodine, and nicotinic acids.
Stress and Anxiety
Like in humans, stress and anxiety can have a toll on dogs. Results from one study showed that stress could contribute to depigmentation in dogs. So if you notice any color change on your Lab, it could be that the dog is undergoing a premature graying process resulting from stress.
What To Do When Your Black Lab Starts Turning Brown
Unfortunately, there's nothing much you can do if your Lab's depigmentation comes from factors like aging or genetics. However, some environmental causes of color change can be preventable. These include:
- Nutrition: You should make sure that your pup's diet is well balanced. An adequate portion of proteins, vitamins, and oils will guarantee a healthy and luscious coat.
- Sunlight: Even though your Lab needs vitamin D from the sun, you should avoid unnecessary and prolonged exposure to sunlight. You can also use coat restoring shampoos or conditioners to repair your Lab's damaged skin and fur. For instance, you might consider Palmers Pets Nourishing Shampoo available on Amazon.com. Your vet may also recommend a specific sunblock to protect your Lab from harmful sun rays.
- Stress: Schedule an appointment with your vet if you're unsure that your Lab is experiencing stress or anxiety. Also, try to maintain a safe and healthy environment for your dog.
If your Lab is under medication for any underlying condition, closely monitor its progress. Also, report any new or worsening symptoms as some drugs may have adverse side effects.
Most dogs experience color changes as they approach their senior years, and your black Lab might be on a gradual graying process, with brown being a transitional color. If your Lab is just a puppy, the depigmentation could be from other underlying factors. Some may not be severe, but it's always advisable to consult a vet if you notice anything unusual.
About THE AUTHOR
Mark is the founder of Everything Labradors and a husband and father of 3. He enjoys spending time with his family, including his dog Molly, a Labrador/Golden Retriever mix. He’s a big fan of the outdoors and loves to travel to new places.Read more about Mark Brunson