Is dyeing your dog's fur safe?

February 26th, 2015
Prue Hammond 1

The world of creative fur colouring is a fun, fantastical place where dogs are transformed into furry canvasses. Kristie Bradfield discovers that in this world, anything is possible.

Bridget the eight-year-old Standard Poodle loves being primped, pampered and dyed. In fact, her owner – arguably one of Australia’s best creative groomers – Prue Hammond, says the only issue she has when colouring Bridget’s fur is avoiding her wagging tail.

The pair have starred in creative colouring competitions over the past few years where Hammond has transformed Bridget into a stunning peacock with vivid blue fur and a plume of peacock feathers, a very groovy-looking Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie and every girl’s favourite crime-fighting heroine, Wonder Woman.

“We always get lots of smiles from people when Bridget is coloured,” says Hammond. “My clients are always excited to see what she will be transformed into each year. Bridget has a spring in her step once the colouring process starts. She struts her stuff, she loves it.”

Bridget isn’t the only one who loves it: creative colouring is taking off all over the world. Chows Chows in China are being transformed into fluffy-looking Pandas; Poodles in the UK have scenes from Memoirs of a Geisha emblazoned on their bodies, and we can’t forget Falcor the Poodle, who was transformed into Simba from the Lion King (well worth half-an-hour spent browsing through Google Images, by the way).

Is the practice of dyeing dogs artistic expression, or is it harmful to our furry friends?

Why do people dye?

As with every aspect of animal welfare, there are people “for” and “against” dog fur dyeing. Those against claim that dyeing is nothing more than a fashion statement or a sparkly, hot pink extension of a person’s ego. However, Dr Joanne Sillince of Pets Australia suggests that creative grooming and colouring can be a bonding experience. “Many pets enjoy the attention and care that comes with being creatively groomed or coloured,” she says.

Fur dyeing is being taken to the next level at creative grooming competitions all over the world. Regardless of whether you are for or against it, it is capturing imaginations and being embraced by the dog-loving public.

Who does the dyeing?

A dye job is serious business and the person applying the colour needs to be trained and experienced in handling a dog in a grooming setting. Just as you wouldn’t give your dog a buzz cut with no experience, you wouldn’t dye a dog’s fur without experience either.

“Dyeing a pet’s coat is not a job to be done at home,” says Dr Sillince. “Groomers will test for colour depth, any irritation and colour bleed, because unlike human hair, there is a wide variety of dog hair types.” Dr Sillince suggests choosing a groomer of competition standard as they have experience working with dogs of all breeds over a long period of time.

Creative colouring doesn’t suit all dogs, though: “If a dog is generally outgoing, loves attention and is safe around people, coat dyeing – done by a competent, professional groomer – can be heaps of fun,” says Dr Sillince. “Dyeing can enhance your relationship with your pet and be a lovely way to interact with your community, especially with children. It’s a lovely way to have fun with pets.”

How is the dyeing done?

The application of the fur dye is very similar to techniques used in a hairdressing salon. Foils cover dyed areas to make sure that the dye doesn’t get applied to sensitive areas like the dog’s eyes and mouth or on any other part of the body where colour isn’t wanted.

“The process involved with colouring Bridget’s coat is very involved,” says Hammond. “I grow it for eight to nine months prior and start colouring three months before a competition to get the right depth of colour. When you’re in the ring on the day of the creative competitions, you get just two hours to transform and work your magic. The judges look for the amount of coat you have (longer is better), the application and depth of the colour applied, how evenly it is applied to the coat, the overall appearance and difficulty of the groom.”

Is it safe? Is it cruel?

Before you’re tempted to throw a couple of boxes of hair dye into the trolley, you should heed Dr Sillince’s advice. “Dyeing a dog’s fur is safe when it is done by a professional groomer, because they are careful only to use special products that have been demonstrated as being safe to use on dogs. They do not use products for humans,” she says. “There have been reports about toxic products being used overseas. These products are not used by professional groomers in Australia because we have strict animal welfare and liability laws to protect animals. No quality groomer would ever deliberately hurt a pet.”

Scientific studies have also shown that there is no change to blood, no toxicity and no psychological affect to the pet when it is dyed or coloured using special pet dyes.

If you are interested in dyeing your dog, Dr Sillince suggests taking some time to talk to potential groomers, even asking for photos of their past work. “You can also check with industry groups to make sure the person you choose is competent,” she says.

In regards to cruelty, Elise Meakin, spokesperson for RSPCA Australia, says that providing that the dye used is not an irritant to the skin or poisonous to ingest, there are no concerns. She does, however, suggest that anyone considering dyeing their dog’s fur check with their vet first.

“Cruelty in any situation depends on the pet, the human and technology,” says Dr Sillince. “These techniques are not cruel and most pets who are creatively groomed or coloured actually enjoy the additional attention they receive.” Dr Sillince says that it is possible to choose the wrong dog for dyeing though, so great care must be taken to ensure the dog is not stressed. Do not force your dog to submit to colouring if he is obviously upset or frightened.

The sky is the limit

With specialist groomers pushing the creative envelope, and dog lovers all over the world embracing the results, we can expect to see more flamboyant dye jobs at grooming competitions everywhere. For now, though, dogs like Bridget are content to fly the flag of the creatively groomed while snagging a little bit of extra attention for themselves.

“Bridget was a star on a Vodafone ad last year,” says Hammond. “She was also on The Living Room and Better Homes and Gardens. You never know what will happen but hopefully there is plenty more limelight for Miss Bridget in the future.”

What can you do at home?

It’s best to leave intricate grooming and dyeing to the professionals but if you want to get playful with a little colour, Dr Joanne Sillince suggests using some pavement chalk or coloured hairspray – but remember to stop immediately if your dog becomes stressed or agitated.

Want to check out some dyed dogs?

Want to know more about the world of creative grooming? Fashion photographer Paul Nathan recently released a hardcover book called Groomed, which captures some of the most primped and pruned pooches competing at the 2013 Intergroom competition. It also features photographs of creatively coloured dogs that you have to see to believe. The book is out now on Amazon.

You need to look after your pooch's health - check out our all-new DOGSLife Directory

Got Something To Say: