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Can Labradors Change Color? (With Age, Health, & Seasons)

Last Updated: January 7, 2024

As a dog shelter owner with a soft spot for Labradors, I’ve often been asked, “Can Labradors Change Color?” Through years of caring for these beautiful dogs, I’ve noticed intriguing variations in their coat colors, influenced by age, health, and even seasons.

So, what do I tell them?

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. 

In my experience, observing these color shifts isn’t just about aesthetics; it can be a window into the dog’s well-being. From puppies to seniors, I’ve seen firsthand how a Labrador’s coat can subtly change, raising questions and concerns among potential adopters.

In this article, we’ll explore the science behind their changing coat colors and what it means for their care. Join me in uncovering the fascinating world of Labradors and their dynamic coats.

Let’s begin!

A Black Lab, a Chocolate Lab and a Yellow Lab.

Can Labradors Change Color?

Labradors can change color, but they always keep the original color as 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 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 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.

Old Black Labrador With Gray Hairs

Labrador Coat Color Change Is Caused by Aging

Aging is the most common reason why Lab coat color changes. Two aspects of Labrador coat color change 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 age, 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 go gray, while light-colored Labs will develop whitish or yellowish spots. 

Graying primarily affects a Lab’s guard hairs, commonly called 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 of the fur 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 dog’s 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.

Seasonal Shedding

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, Here’s How To Reduce Lab Shedding.

A Chocolate Labrador Puppy.

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 changes. They include:

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 live normally.

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 water to retain its natural sheen. 

An inadequate diet can be why 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.

Similarly, 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 for the best diet for your dog: Best Diet for Labradors: Nutrition, Types, and More!

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.  

Yellow Labrador Puppies


Do Lab Puppies Coats Change Color?

Labrador puppies retain their original coat color – black, chocolate, or yellow – throughout their lives, as these colors are determined by specific gene combinations. While their coat may lighten with age, this is a natural discoloration and not a change from their initial color.

Do Chocolate Labs Get Darker As They Age?

Chocolate Labs typically lighten, not darken, with age due to factors like diet, health, and environment. Genetically, they remain ‘bb’ – inheriting the brown coat allele from both parents – but may experience graying or lightening of their coat over time.

Do Black Labs Change Color?

Black Labs, with their ‘BB’ genetic combination, inherit the dominant black coat gene from both parents and maintain this color throughout life. However, aging, health issues like vitiligo, or environmental factors such as UV exposure and nutrition can lead to discoloration, including white spots or a lighter sheen.

Do Yellow Labs Coats Get Darker or Lighter As They Age?

Yellow Labs may range from light cream to fox-red but don’t darken with age. Instead, their coats often lighten due to factors like UV exposure, nutrition, and health. While a yellow Lab puppy’s coat might seem to darken as it develops its adult fur, this is not a genetic change but a natural progression.

Why Is My White Lab Turning Yellow?

White Labs, essentially pale yellow Labs, may display a darker yellow shade if their melanin production increases, influenced by factors like diet. They are not albino but the lightest variation of the ‘ee’ genetic code for yellow Labs.

The intensity of this yellow shade can vary, making some appear almost white, but they are genetically yellow Labs with varying melanin levels.

Sowmya Sankaran
Sowmya Sankaran is crazy about dogs, rabbits and birds! An avid rescuer and rehabilitator of dogs and other animals, she runs the Life With Equality Charitable Trust, an animal shelter in Chennai, India. She is also the founder of Petsmond, a pet website, in which she shares her experiences in raising different creatures and paying attention to intricate aspects of their health.

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