Dear Doctor: Only Her Hairdresser Knows For Sure


Q. Why is it that as dogs age they get gray around the muzzle and eyes, while cats don’t? I’ve never seen a cat go gray like that, and I’ve had cats who reached almost 20. They always look the same, other than becoming heavier or thinner. I asked my vet, and he had no idea.

Kimberley Bullard

Osceola, Missouri

Dear Ms. Bullard,

A. Cats can and sometimes do get grey hairs as they age (often the hairs become white rather than grey, says Tufts veterinary dermatologist Dr. Ramón Almela). But it doesn’t happen at the same rate or as frequently as in dogs.

Apparently, felines retain more melanocytes, which are the cells in hair follicles responsible for the production of the pigment melanin. That means their hair is more apt to retain its color. In addition, the aging process of cats goes a little more slowly than in dogs (which helps explain why they live longer).

That means grey hairs are probably not going to pop up as soon. Incidentally, stress can accelerate the greying process in cats, just like in people (and dogs). If a loved one dies or the cat has to move to a new home (even if you move there, too), the demands made on her emotional reserve by the change can cause some of her hairs to grey earlier than they otherwise would have. Not surprisingly, grey hair shows more on a dark-colored cat than, say, an orange or white one. It’s the same with people. Grey doesn’t show quite as quickly in blondes as in brunettes.


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