Hair color for pets is popular, but is it safe? Here’s what to know
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Every few months someone posts a photo or video on social media of a pet whose tail, ears or entire coat has been dyed with colors not seen in nature. Perhaps they are adorned with purple leopard spots or green tiger stripes, or dotted with pastel hearts -- just to name just a few of the dazzling designs that creative groomers and pet lovers think up to give their animals. Invariably, it starts a flame war between people who think it’s cruel and those who think it’s harmless fun.
Why do people do it? Reasons range from prettying pets up for holidays, therapy visits or shelter adoptions; giving them a unique appearance so they’ll be less likely to be stolen; and, yes, just for fun.
“I understand the concern that people have seeing dyed dogs,” says dog groomer Gabriel Feitosa in San Diego, who has been creatively grooming dogs for 18 years. “It comes from a place of love for the animals, and if I had no idea how this was done, I would probably also be concerned.”
Among the dogs Feitosa has transformed with color are therapy dogs who visit children’s facilities and hospitals and shelter dogs who need a little extra attention. “At the shelter, we focused on big dogs and the older ones that are constantly overlooked, and I think it gave them a second chance to find a forever home,” Feitosa says. “All the transformed pups got adopted right away.”
Whether you’re considering hair color for your dog, cat, bunny, guinea pig or horse, or you think your pet’s hair is perfect as-is, here’s what to know.
Use products made specifically for pets. Never use hair color made for humans on pets, especially products that contain peroxide, ammonia or bleach, says veterinary dermatologist Wayne Rosenkrantz at Animal Dermatology Group in Tustin, California: “They can irritate eyes and cause contact reactions or burn the skin and damage hair.”
Veterinarian Diane Walker, who practices at Blueberry Creek Veterinary Hospital in Perth, Ontario, Canada, advises being aware of the potential for allergic reactions and using products that aren’t heavily scented, which could be annoying to pets or elicit negative reactions from other animals.
Creative grooming is best for pets who enjoy being pampered and have learned from an early age to remain still and calm while being brushed, combed, shampooed or trimmed.
“You would need a dog who is very low-reactivity and is used to grooming, and who doesn't have reactive doggy friends,” Dr. Walker says.
Whether applying color at home or having it done by a professional pet groomer, expect the process to take 30 to 40 minutes. “We apply the dyes onto the fur, and it has to sit for 15 to 20 minutes before rinsing,” Feitosa says.
The nontoxic dyes developed for pets are colored stains, and they work best on white or light-colored dogs.
Plenty of YouTube videos show people coloring their pets at home, and it can be done safely with patience and the right products, but Feitosa notes some reasons to consider seeking out a professional.
“A dog’s unexpected sudden move might make the dye job not so pretty, and once it’s done, you’ll have to live with it for a couple of months or trim the hair off,” he says. “A professional will also know how the vibrancy of each color will come out in different areas of your dog. For example, ears and tail usually come out in different tones using the same dye due to the oily nature of the ears.”
Make sure products are labeled for pets, and don’t let pets lick them during application, even if they’re labeled nontoxic.
Choose gentle semi-permanent dyes and color-depositing shampoos for animals who may be more sensitive, such as cats, rabbits and guinea pigs.
Keep cat teeth
from drilling you
Q: My cat nailed me with her teeth recently, and I got a bad infection! How can I prevent future bites?
A: Ouch! Cat bites are not only painful, they are scary, having the potential of becoming infected within hours. Any time a cat bites, it’s essential to clean the wound with soap and water and see a doctor immediately.
Let’s hope this was a one-time occurrence. If you know why the bite occurred -- for instance, you pet your cat for too long or on an area where she doesn’t like being touched, such as the belly -- don’t do that again. But if you live with a bitey kitty, here are some tips to help you avoid those razor-sharp fangs.
-- Respect your cat's limits. Many cat bites are the result of pushing an interaction just seconds too long. Signs a cat is getting edgy include tail swishing, crouching, ears rotated back or lowered, dilated pupils and hair standing on end. Tune in and end an interaction before your cat reaches her breaking point.
-- Freeze! If your cat does go after you, think fast to prevent serious injury. First, if you are holding her, let go. Second, don't move. Your cat's instincts are to fight until she wins, and lack of movement tells her you're not a threat anymore.
-- Get yourself to a doctor. Because cats carry bacteria on their claws, a high percentage of scratches become infected. If you get scratched or bitten, you'll likely need antibiotics to heal. Better to head things off at the pass by calling your doctor sooner rather than later. Cat scratches and bites can lead to nasty infections, disease and even hospitalization. Here’s more on cat bites: fearfreehappyhomes.com/how-to-treat-and-prevent-cat-bites.
If the situation doesn't improve, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
news you can use
-- Would pandemic pets be more prone to separation anxiety? That was a big question after people started returning to the office instead of working at home. Based on anecdotal evidence, experts aren’t seeing a significant increase in canine separation anxiety, according to veterinary behaviorists Valarie Tynes and Laurie Bergman, who addressed the concern during a Jan. 15 presentation at the Veterinary Meeting and Expo (VMX) in Orlando, Florida. It’s more important, they said, for veterinarians to talk to new owners about the importance of socialization for a puppy’s mental and emotional development. If your vet doesn’t bring it up, ask! You can learn more here: fearfreehappyhomes.com/new-puppy-socialization-starts-now.
-- A study published last October in the Journal of Neuroscience (jneurosci.org/content/40/43/8396) looked at the similarities and differences in how dogs and humans process facial recognition. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, researchers mapped the brains of canine and human study participants as they were shown images of people and animals. They found that humans focused first on expression while dogs focused first on species. Veterinary behaviorist Laurie Bergman spoke about the study at VMX, explaining that dogs recognize human head shape and canine head shape. “Anything that disrupts that outline can cause alarm,” she says. Perhaps that’s why some dogs are startled when they see people wearing hats. Just in case, ensure that young puppies have positive encounters with multiple people wearing different types of headgear or carrying umbrellas.
-- Between the ages of 4 weeks and 14 weeks, a kitten’s brain has its greatest capacity for learning and memory. Choose a kitten raised in a home where they have become used to household sounds and being petted or held by people. Kittens who aren’t handled or are handled very little before they are 10 weeks old are more likely to be fearful. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts. Veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker is founder of the Fear Free organization, co-founder of VetScoop.com and author of many best-selling pet care books. Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning journalist and author who has been writing about animals since 1985. Mikkel Becker is a behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/Kim.CampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.