An article from LiveScience has me thinking. Well, it has me speculating, but please hear me out.
It turns out that the production of pheomelanin, the melanin that produces the red, gold, and yellow color in golden retrievers, may actually make them susceptible to oxidative damage to their cells, which might make them more susceptible to cancer.
Spanish researchers examined a large sample of wild boars, and they found that wild boars with reddish colored coats, which are produced through that same melanin as golden retrievers, have more cell damage from oxidative stress than those with grayer coats.
Pheomelanin production requires a chemical called glutathione (GSH). GSH is also an important anti-oxidant.
The researchers found that the more pheomelanin a boar had in its hair, the more likely it was to have lower GSH levels in its muscle cells.
Now, this is an interesting finding about wild boars, but it instantly got me thinking about golden retrievers.
Virtually all golden retrievers I’ve known are entirely gray-muzzled by the time they are 6 or 7 years old.
I’m so accustomed to seeing how golden retrievers age that I often think dogs of other breeds are younger than they actually are.
Maybe the reason why golden retrievers turn gray so early is related to this discovery in Spanish wild boars.
Maybe the early graying is an attempt to free up some of the dog’s GSH for fighting free radicals. Once the dog’s muzzle turns gray, those hairs are no longer using up GSH for the production of the color and can be used for that purpose.
Or maybe that coloration uses so much of the GSH that the dog simply can’t produce enough of it to keep the muzzle red, yellow, or gold once it hits a certain age.
Or maybe this breed is just generally prone to oxidation damage and the coat color just makes it a bit worse, and the dogs eventually have to convert all that GSH to anti-oxidant duties instead of pheomelanin production.
I’d really like to see a study on pheomelanin and GSH in golden retrievers.
This discovery in wild boars could explain why golden retrievers get gray-muzzled at such early ages.
It’s something that has intrigued me for quite some time, and maybe this is the answer.
It also means that golden retrievers may need a diet richer in anti-oxidants than other breeds. They may need it to make up for the GSH deficiency that is caused by their coat color.