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12/12/2016 12:17 pm ET Updated Jan 20, 2017

Stress Can Even Make The Dog Go Prematurely Gray

Yes, even our pets need to lower their stress levels.
Zoonar RF via Getty Images

Is there a hair coloring market for covering up the gray in Fido’s muzzle? Let’s hope not. But just like humans, life’s stressful events can cause premature graying of young dogs, a Northern Illinois University study has found.  

The study, appearing in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, examined 400 dogs across Colorado and administered dog behavior questionnaires to their owners. Independent graders rated the extent of muzzle grayness based on photos of the dogs taken on-site. The results found that dogs between one and four years old who exhibited higher owner-reported signs of anxiety showed a greater extent of premature muzzle graying than their less anxious dog peers. Increased muzzle grayness also was related to owner-reported symptoms of impulsivity in the dogs. Female dogs showed higher levels of grayness than male dogs. Dog size, spay/neuter status and the presence of medical problems showed little impact on the extent of muzzle grayness.

The study, said the authors, has implications for dog welfare.

In 2014, the same team published research in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior examining the effect of pressure wraps (e.g., “Thundershirts”) on heart rate levels and symptoms of anxiety in dogs. This study found that the use of such pressure wraps can markedly decrease heart rate in anxious dogs and also affect other behavioral measures of stress.

Dog trainers and veterinarians suggest that physical activities ― like a game of fetch or a walk around the block―  can be a great stress reducer for dogs. They also suggest creating a safe zone ― an area in your house where the dog can escape high-stress events like thunderstorms or loud parties. Provide your dog with a favorite “security blanket” such as a toy and visit your dog often. If possible, stay with him until the high-stress event has passed. Your presence is a great reassurance to him or her.

And as a last resort, there is always doggie Xanax.

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