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Is it Safe to Dye a Dog's Fur?


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Some dogs love to sport their groomed look while strutting through the neighborhood or local dog park. Short bangs, trimmed paws and legs, and other pawfect looks can instill confidence in a dog, giving them a sense of pride and comfort.

Encore, however, gets applause whenever he shows off his Mad Hatter and Cheshire Cat impression from Alice in Wonderland! Seen in the documentary, “Well Groomed,” this Poodle is involved in creative grooming, a type of dog grooming that features dyes and elaborate designs for competitive grooming shows. While some may say that Encore loves the attention, the preparation of getting ready for a show takes around 20 to 40 hours of time on the table getting his hair cut, dyed and styled. Who knows if he likes that, or if it’s causing any health problems?

While creative grooming is a growing trend, there are owners who may just want to celebrate the holidays with a red and green streak in their pooch’s tail, or give their dog pink highlights around their ears and feet. But there are opponents to dyeing dog fur that say the practice is unethical and dangerous.

Is it safe to dye your dog’s fur? Let’s find out!

Is dyeing your dog ethical?

In the ethical debate surrounding dyeing dog fur, there’s passionate voices on both sides. Fans of creative grooming say that dogs love the attention they get from their wild designs, and the long time on the table increases the bond between them and their owners. While some designs can take a year to complete, the groomers say individual sessions are only a couple hours long.

Critics of dyeing dog fur bark about the unethical practice of turning our best furry pals into accessories rather than being treated like the intelligent animals they really are. Dogs don’t get to choose whether or not they want to be purple or orange, or have their hair shaped into the Lion King. The long hours forced to stand on a table for an owner’s pleasure is cruel, and could be quite stressful. And the dyes themselves could change how a dog’s fur smells, causing aggression and problems with other dogs, creating more psychological stress. 

Is dyeing your dog safe?

Sporting different colors and looks can be fun, but dyeing your dog can be downright dangerous. Dyes made for human use contain toxic chemicals, a fact that some amateur, home groomers may not know. Hair dyes and highlights can cause skin irritation which can include itching and burning, and could be lethal! In 2018, a Maltese almost died from severe burns after undergoing a purple die job using human hair dye!

A dog’s skin can also be sensitive to other chemicals used when dyeing hair, such as ammonia and hydrogen peroxide. And if they lick any of these products off their fur, they could end up in the emergency room with diarrhea and vomiting.

Creative groomers are required to use dog-safe dyes, which come in semi-permanent and permanent in many colors, and are made from less toxic materials. If you are considering dyeing your dog, always use these dog-safe dyes, and be sure to read all the ingredients and look up anything you don’t recognize as these products are not regulated. While these dyes seem to be much safer for pups, studies have not been conducted about the long-term effects of dyeing your dog, so always use caution and talk with your veterinarian if you have questions. 

Is dyeing your dog legal?

If you decide to dye your dog’s ears and paws your local team’s colors for the big game day, be sure you find out if its legal in your state, or you might be looking at a fine or misdemeanor charge. While most states in the U.S. haven’t drawn a line quite yet, there are four that have decided to ban dyeing dog fur.

  • Colorado – This mountainous state prohibits dyeing any kind of animal, and will arrest you, impound your dog and slap you with a minimum of a $1,000 fine if you live in or visit the state with your colored pooch.
  • Florida – You’ll get a second-degree misdemeanor and a fine up to $500 in the Sunshine State if your resident or visiting dog is sporting a wild-colored dog!
  • Maine – Here, dyeing any animal is a civil violation warranting up to a $100 fine. However, they do exclude dogs used or raised for hunting or exhibition purposes, so you can put a blaze of hunter orange on your hunting hounds for safety.
  • South Carolina - You’ll get a misdemeanor in this southern state for a dyed dog, even if you are just passing through. If found guilty, your dog could be impounded and adopted by a new family, and could even be euthanized! 

How to safely dye your dog

Now that you’ve gotten past all the issues and limitations, if you are still planning to put some color in your dog’s life, there are some tips to ensure your dog stays safe.

  • Always use dog-safe dye. Never use toxic human hair dye on your dog due to the risk of burns and injuries.
  • Always dye a test patch on your dog first before doing an entire dye job to be sure your dog’s skin isn’t allergic or irritated. Wait 1 to 2 days for any signs or symptoms before continuing.
  • Use a semi-permanent dye when starting out so you can wash out the dye if you need to.
  • Never apply dye to sensitive areas on your dog, such as around their nose, mouth or eyes.
  • Pay attention to your dog’s stress levels, and stop dyeing if your dog is unable to stand or stay in place easily, or is getting anxious.
  • Limit or prevent letting your dog from licking the dye during application, even if non-toxic. Use a cone if necessary. Signs of a chemical poisoning can include drooling, vomiting, difficulty breathing, diarrhea, tongue swelling and pale gums, and requires immediate emergency attention.
  • Know how to recognize a skin allergy, and discontinue use of any product that causes one. Symptoms can include reddened, heated or swollen skin, raised bumps, and itchiness.

So, is dyeing your dog safe? While we can't be sure any chemical product is 100% safe, as long as you practice safe techniques and use dog-friendly products, dyeing your dog can be a fun and creative bonding experience that is sure to gather looks wherever your dog goes. 

If your dog is at risk of being exposed to chemicals such as those in hair dyes, check out our pet insurance comparison tool to make sure they are covered when medical emergencies strike. Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like Figo and Healthy Paws. 

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© 2024 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.