Dog coat color is often a significant factor in the decision to bring home a Labrador puppy, and it can be concerning if your Lab’s coat suddenly changes its color. However, there’s usually no need to worry if that happens.
Labradors can change color with age, seasons, and health. Although coat color is an unchanging genetic trait, a Labrador Retriever’s coat may lighten or develop other colors on the surface.
So, is coat color change an issue among Labrador Retrievers, and how can Labradors change color? I found science-backed answers to these questions, and I’ll share all the details with you.
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Let’s dive straight into our main question: Can Labradors change color?
Can Labradors Change Color?
Labradors can change color, but they always keep the original color coded in their genetic makeup. Nonetheless, due to aging, seasonal factors, nutrition, anxiety, and some health issues, Labrador coats can lose their sheen and color intensity to become lighter.
So, a Labrador’s coat can develop different colors and textures depending on environmental factors and your pup’s health.
However, it is essential to note that, although I will be talking of Labrador coat color change, I’m referring to the variation in coat color that comes in time and not the genetically inherited Labrador coat color.
Concern about coat color change is plentiful among dog owners. For example, a Lab owner on The Labrador Forum recently discussed his worry about his jet-black Labrador puppy that began to develop a chocolate coat at four months. A few other responders in the forum quickly expressed similar experiences with their Labs.
So what is it that causes your black Lab to turn chocolate or white, or your chocolate Lab to turn yellow? Let’s talk about it.
Why Is My Labrador Changing Color?
Your Labrador changes color due to genetic, age, health, nutritional, environmental, and emotional factors that influence the production, intensity, and distribution of skin and hair pigmentation (melanin) in the hair cortex and hair shaft.
Usually, coat color change in Labradors and other dogs presents as hair discoloration and fading, or the staining of white and black coat hairs into a yellow or red color.
While other factors can cause Labrador coat color discoloration or staining, these are the most common ones:
Labradors Are Genetically Predisposed to Color Change
Like in humans, genes play a role in a dog’s hair graying with age. As such, some dogs may be genetically predisposed to graying early, and others may gray later. This variation is thanks to the genes inherited from their parents.
Genetic predisposition to early graying explains why perfectly healthy Lab puppies may show gray hairs as early as age four.
Nonetheless, early or later graying genetic predisposition should not be confused with progressive graying. Progressive graying happens when a dog inherits the gray gene (G locus), which causes progressive premature graying in black and liver-colored dogs (the eumelanin pigment).
However, this is not the case in Labrador Retrievers because Labs are not among dog breeds that inherit the graying gene.
Labrador Coat Color Change Is Caused by Aging
Aging is the most common reason why Lab coat color changes. There are two aspects of Labrador coat color change that come with aging.
First, while Labrador puppies will keep their birth coat color, the intensity of the color may show a slight change at maturity when Lab puppies acquire their adult coat around 6-12 months.
Secondly, as dogs get older, their DNA wears down, just like a human’s. This DNA change slows down the production of melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin.
Consequently, your Lab’s fur pigmentation becomes lighter, causing gray hairs in eumelanin colors (black, brown, liver, chocolate, etc.) and lighter hairs in pheomelanin colors (red, yellow, etc.).
So, you can expect a dark-colored labrador to gray, while light-colored Labs will develop whitish or yellowish spots.
Graying primarily affects a Lab’s guard hairs, what we commonly call the outer coat. These hairs are more noticeable on the muzzle and face of black Labradors.
Further, dog coat color generally tends to lighten with age, regardless of the graying element. As such, a Lab may show a deeper coat color when younger and a whiter shade as the dog grows older. Natural lightening usually starts when your dog is around 6 to 8 years old.
Labrador Color Changes With Seasons and Weather Conditions
Seasonal and weather-related coat color changes in Labradors are linked to three main factors:
Exposure to UV Rays
Labradors and other dogs constantly exposed to UV rays can have their coats changing color to a light sheen. A recent study found that UV light, humidity, and temperature impact a dogs’ hair color.
Specifically, while humidity and temperature tended to darken dog coat color in the first 24 hours of exposure, exposure to UV lightened the coat color. UV light affects melanin production in dogs, and it is also known to destroy the amino acids in the skin.
So, exposing your Lab to direct sunlight, especially in the hotter months of the year, can lighten their coat. Besides, from a different health perspective, prolonged exposure to the intense sun can cause heatstroke in dogs.
Dog hair has a cycle of growth that happens in 3 phases:
- The Anagen phase is when the hair grows.
- The Catagen stage is a transitional stage when hair growth is stagnant.
- The Telogen phase is when the hair falls.
In Labs, the catagen and telogen phases occur in spring and fall when the Lab grows its coat. The stagnated hair in the catagen phase may appear to be changing to a lighter shade. The same is true of the telogen phase when plenty of loose hair is in your dog’s coat.
On the contrary, when the new fur grows, its coat color may appear brighter and more intensely colored.
Do you want to know more about shedding and how to keep it under control? Check out this article, Labrador Shedding: Here’s How To Reduce Lab Shedding.
Labrador Color Changes Due to Health Issues
Illness, injury, and surgery can disrupt the production and distribution of melanin in dogs.
When your Lab has an injury or a surgical operation, the fur on the scar area is lost. During healing, a surge in melanin production occurs to facilitate hair growth, causing hyperpigmentation.
The new hair has the characteristics of freshly grown puppy fur and portrays a darker shade. However, this surge in melanin production only affects the injury or surgery area.
Also, several illnesses affect Labradors and other dogs’ coat color change. They include:
- Hormonal health issues such as hypothyroidism.
- Liver and kidney disease.
- Autoimmune skin diseases like vitiligo and Uveodermatological Syndrome.
Vitiligo is a rare autoimmune skin disease that destroys skin melanocytes (the cells that produce melanin), leading to depigmentation in the affected areas. If your Labrador is affected by vitiligo, you will see white patches on your dog’s coat. However, the disease is not painful, and your dog can lead a normal life.
While Labradors are not among dog breeds predisposed to vitiligo, they can get the disease just like all other dog breeds. In fact, a black Lab named Rowdy has recently gained internet fame for his vitiligo patches, among other characteristics.
Uveodermatologic Syndrome is an autoimmune disease that destroys melanocytes in high-pigment cells such as the skin and eyes.
The condition causes your dog’s fur to lose its original color due to premature hair whitening, and it also comes with red and painful eyes. The white patches, similar to those of vitiligo, are most common on the face, eyelids, nose, and lips, as well as the footpads, scrotum, anus, and vulva.
Although Uveodermatological Syndrome is rare and not fully defined medically, most experts believe it is a canine version of Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada Syndrome in humans.
Labrador Color Changes Due to Nutritional Deficiencies
Your Lab’s coat requires a healthy diet with high-quality proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, fats, and fresh water to retain its natural sheen.
An inadequate diet can be the reason your Labrador loses fur excessively or loses its coat sheen to become dull and lighter.
Several studies have identified dietary deficiencies that can cause dog coats to change color.
For example, a study on nutritional influences on dog hair color established that certain body minerals and vitamins significantly influence coat appearance. These include:
- Trace elements like copper and zinc.
- Certain amino acids, especially tyrosine and phenylalanine.
- Vitamins, especially B2, B complex, and H.
In a similar vein, another study confirmed that dietary intake of tyrosine amino acid facilitates melanin deposition in the fur of black dogs, resulting in a deep coat intensity.
Similarly, a third study found that a diet rich in phenylalanine, tyrosine, and copper reduced off-white discoloration in white dogs and improved the level of fur pigmentation.
Pro tip: Check out this article to find out the best diet for your doggo, Best Diet for Labradors: Nutrition, Types, and More!
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Labrador Coat Color Changes Due to Anxiety/Fear
We have known for a while now that stress can speed up hair graying in humans. Surprisingly, the same seems true in dogs.
If your Labrador is constantly exposed to situations that cause them anxiety and fear, they could show premature hair graying. That is because prolonged exposure to stress hormones can negatively impact hair pigmentation.
In this regard, a study assessing premature graying in young dogs (1 to 4-year olds) found that anxiety, fear, and impulsivity led to premature graying.
Labrador Coat Color FAQs
Can Labradors change color? Genetically speaking, no! Your Labrador will always wear the coat color he came with at birth.
However, all Lab coat colors can change to a lighter shade due to aging, poor nutrition, exposure to UV rays, seasonal effects, anxiety, and illness. Black Labs also show graying with age, while their chocolate and yellow counterparts may grow lighter hairs.
When we say a Labrador changes color, we simply mean their coat undergoes permanent or temporary graying or discoloration due to the mentioned factors.
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