(CNN)Whether you call them gray hairs or stress highlights, world-renowned animal scientist and autism advocate Temple Grandin wants you to know that dogs may get them prematurely, too — possibly when stressed, such as being left at home alone.
Premature graying in dogs may be an indicator of anxiety and impulsivity, according to a study published in this month’s edition of the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, in which Grandin served as a co-author.
Camille King, an animal behaviorist and owner of the Canine Education Center in Denver, noticed a few years ago that many impulsive and anxious dogs seemed to be prematurely turning gray. When King told Grandin about her observations, Grandin said she encouraged King to lead the research.
“The first thing I thought of when she told me that were the presidents, and how they age and get prematurely gray,” said Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University, referring to American commanders in chief.
“The fact that presidents turn prematurely gray was one of the things that made me encourage her to do the study,” Grandin said. “Basically, (the study findings) validated what she had seen in years of doing dog behavior work.”
‘I was surprised’
The study, conducted at Northern Illinois University, involved 400 dogs, 4 years old or younger, with non-white-colored hair so the researchers could adequately determine degrees of graying.
“Normally, dogs wouldn’t be gray at age 4,” Grandin said.
If the dog is stressed, what might be a common cause? Being left home alone, Grandin said.
“I’ve been very concerned about all these dogs spending so much time home alone all day. I walk through the streets where I live at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and I can hear dogs barking and whining in houses,” Grandin said.
“We have bred dogs to be social beings, and then you leave them home all day and they don’t get to do much socializing,” she said. “I think the home alone problem is a big factor. This is just my opinion.”
Grandin said one of her colleagues tends to leave his dogs with a friend when he is away from home, and she encourages others to do the same.
“Some people take their dogs to doggy day care. Some of those are good. Some of them are run poorly,” she said. “If you have a dog that does not handle being home alone well, maybe you need to be making arrangements to drop him off at the next door neighbor’s on your way to work.”