Is there anything cuter then a grey muzzle? Yes. Yes there is. Two grey muzzles! Here at Calgary Humane Society we LOVE senior pets and their distinguished salt and pepper look, but have you ever wondered why pets go grey?
The Science of fur and hair
If you have a pet who sheds, that pet has fur. If you have a pet that does not shed, that pet may still be said to have fur, but their ‘fur’ is actually more like hair. On a chemical basis, fur and hair are the same – both are made of keratin – so what’s the difference?
Well “fur” is a term reserved for non-human mammals. Fur grows to a specific length and stops and also shows synchronized growth (each fur grows at the same rate so a missing patch of fur will come in pretty evenly).
Properties of Fur
Fur will be periodically lost and then re-grown throughout the year (shedding).
Fur can have a single strand per follicle or a double strand (Russian Blue cats are an example of this double-strand coat).
Animals with fur can also have multiple textures of fur, like a course overcoat and a soft undercoat.
Properties of Hair
Hair, on the other hand, never stops growing and each strand of hair can grow at a slightly different rate.
While individual hairs may fall out from time to time, for the most part hair will stay put until it is cut off.
Each follicle will have only one hair and all of the hair in one area will typically have the same texture.
One more difference between fur and hair? The core of animal fur is structured in a way that makes it an excellent insulator – that’s why animals can stay warm in the winter. Hair, on the other hand, is not as good of an insulator, which is why humans wear toques in the winter instead of just letting their hair keep their heads warm.
Why is your hair or your pet’s fur turning grey?
Hair or fur is coloured by a natural pigment called melanin. Pigment cells in the root of the hair or fur produce this chemical pigment as the hair or fur grows and this pigment gives the hair or fur a visible colour. As humans and animals age, these pigment cells start to die off and as they vanish the hair or fur grows in without a pigment. This gives the hair or fur a grey, silver or white appearance. This does not happen all at once, which is why humans and animals alike tend to go grey slowly. Most humans will eventually find themselves completely grey, while most animals will not lose all of their pigment resulting in that familiar salt and pepper muzzle we all love.
Grey hair or fur is more noticeable on dark coloured animals because of the contrast, but lighter coloured animals can also go grey. If you have a blond animal, like a golden retriever, you may notice their muzzle going lighter over time instead of noticing a distinct grey colour. Now, if you have a white coloured animal, then you likely won’t notice any difference in their coat as they age because white fur is already lacking melanin, so there is no pigment for it to lose!
So… what do you do when you start to notice your pet going grey? Is it time to bust out the hair dye? (Answer: No. No it is not.).
At Calgary Humane Society, we suggest that grey muzzles are not something to be covered up but worn with pride. It is a badge of honour for all of the time your pet has spent making the world a happier place.
Looking for a fun way to make your day better? Post a photo of your favourite grey muzzle to our Facebook or send us your favourite senior pet story! We may feature your story on an upcoming social media post!