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 that visit children's facilities and hospitals and shelter dogs that 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."
If you're considering hair color for your dog, cat, bunny, guinea pig or horse, here's what you should know:
Use products made specifically for pets. Never use hair color made for humans, especially products that contain peroxide, ammonia or bleach, says veterinary dermatologist Wayne Rosenkrantz at Animal Dermatology Group in Tustin, Calif.: "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, advises to be aware of the potential for allergic reactions and use 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 that 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," 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," Feitosa says. "For example, ears and tail usually come out in different tones using the same dye, due to the oily nature of the ears."
Even if the pet products are labeled nontoxic, don't let pets lick them during application. And choose gentle semi-permanent dyes and color-depositing shampoos for animals that may be more sensitive, such as cats, rabbits and guinea pigs.