Why You Should Never Dye a Dog's Hair
See files for Dogs
You have likely seen on social media various examples of a dog's hair being dyed. There are reports of dogs being dyed to look like animals, cats having their coats shaved to imprint with various designs or sometimes the entire coat of a dog being turned a different color. They are popular because they give the animals odd and surprising looks, making them ideal fodder for views and likes. What does the effect of dying their coat have on a dog? Is it safe physically or psychologically?
At AnimalWised, we look at why you should never dye your dog's hair. We explain the safety and repercussions of their process on a dog's well-being by looking at the physical, psychological and social risks the process can entail.
1. Health risks of dying a dog's hair
There is some debate about the safety of using animal-specific hair dye. There is no doubt that human hair dye should never be used on an animal. These products use harsh and caustic chemicals which can burn the dog's skin. When rinsing or using on hair on the face, the chemicals can easily migrate to the eyes and cause significant damage. If the dog has a skin sensitivity, the process can be even more dangerous. Evidence can be seen from a dog in Florida which almost died due to a severe allergic reaction to human hair dye.
Animal-specific hair dyes have been created as a safer alternative to other products. Many of these hair dyes claim to be both vegan and cruelty-free. They are modified to adapt to the pH of the dog's skin and to avoid serious poisoning if ingested. However, they do not guarantee that the animal will not suffer any type of allergic reaction after application.
Many dyes cause itching, irritation and redness in the skin of dogs, even though they are theoretically harmless to them. In more serious cases, dogs with a predisposition to dermatological pathologies, puppies or those with greater sensitivity problems, such as albino dogs, can suffer from very strong skin reactions that require urgent veterinary assistance.
Part of the problem is a lack of regulation. Although products may claim to be cruelty free and vegan, there are no regulatory bodies which are used to back up such claims. The FDA has some regulation for human-use hair dyes, but even they have limitations and they do not mention animal usage.
What we do know is that even so-called safe animal hair dyes use ingredients which are known to be caustic. For example, Arctic Fox is a popular animal hair dye in the USA and it contains ingredients such as quaternium-52 and methylchloroisothiazolinone. Quaternium-52 is a corrosive, irritant and environmental hazard, even if it is only used in a small ratio in animal hair dye. Methylchloroisothiazolinone is a known allergen and dermatological sensitizer. Artic Fox themselves claim their product should not be used on animals which regularly groom themselves, inferring a potential hazard if they lick the dye from their coat.
2. It is a stressful procedure
Grooming is very important for many dogs. They have coats which can become entangled easily or the length of their coat can affect mobility and general well-being. For some dogs, grooming sessions can be fairly extended periods of time. How the dog will react to grooming sessions will depend on severa factors, including their level of habituation to handling, their tolerance of water and the abilities of the groomer.
Some dogs have very serious aversions to the methods involved in grooming. They may become anxious around clippers, feel corned when being bathed or find the sound of the hairdryer to be very scary. It can cause very serious distress and have both short and long-term effects on their well-being. When the grooming is necessary, some dogs may need to be sedated if they really cannot tolerate grooming interactions.
When we add the process of dyeing to a dog's normal grooming routine, it is going to extend this period exponentially. The dog has to be washed, clipped, dried, dye applied and then parts of this process are repeated. The use of the coloring can also be unpleasant as it uses sharp-smelling chemicals to which dogs are particularly sensitive. The dog's heart rate can increase, their cognition is inhibited and their inability to flee can trigger defensive behaviors, including aggression.
Some dogs will be able to tolerate the prolonged grooming sessions it takes to dye their coat a different color or colors. Few will enjoy it. At best it is an unnecessary extension of a process which can be quite dull for the dog. At worst, it can lead to serious emotional trauma.
3. It camouflages the dog's scent and causes communication problems
Smell is the most important sense for a dog. Olfactory capability of dogs is famously very acute. Through smell, dogs are capable of obtaining a great deal of information, both from the environment and from other individuals. Doing so allows them to adapt the way they behave in different contexts.
One of the main problems of dye for dogs is that it seriously modifies the natural smell of the dog. Although we may be unable to perceive it, they do. This can be annoying for the animal itself as it can be annoying and discomfiting. As stated above, the chemicals in the dye can be toxic if ingested, so the dog stop grooming themselves or have an unpleasant feeling when they do groom.
Since the dog's smell has changed, it can affect their ability to communicate with other dogs. Since dogs greet each other by sniffing their scents, the artificial smell of hair dye can cause other dogs to reject them or potentially even become aggressive.
Often, dyeing a dog's hair is accompanied by ostentatious haircuts, especially in breeds such as the Poodle, Chow Chow, Pomeranian, Bichon Frise and others. Some of these cuts include a shave on the animal's snout, which means the loss of its vibrissae (whiskers), a fundamental part of its sensory-perceptive system. Clipping a dog's whiskers can cause significant confusion and orientation problems. Learn more in our article on why dogs have whiskers.
4. It encourages the objectification of animals
Finally, dyeing a dog's hair is also an ethical issue. By trying to transform animals into the equivalent of stuffed toy and treating them like canvases on which we can paint, we are ignoring their right to dignity. We are encouraging them to be seen as objects, rather than as sentient beings endowed with intelligence and the ability to experience and communicate emotions.
A dog does not need this type of aesthetic touch-up. Although we may do it with good intentions and look for products that are not harmful, we should think about the aforementioned implications and risks to assess whether it is really worth dyeing our dog's hair. Doing so provides no benefit to, only potential harm.
Take a look at our guide to the five freedoms of animal welfare, the basic guidelines to ensuring the welfare of a dog. We think dyeing their hair unnecessarily contravenes these guidelines.
It is perfectly possible a dog will be happy when we take them to the groomer and they go through the long process of having their hair dyed. When we form strong bonds with them, our dog wants to make us happy and they can withstand the process for our benefit. This is the key factor. When we dye our own hair, it is a valuable form of self-expression. When we dye our dog's hair it is also our self-expression, not an expression of the dog's needs and wishes.
When we factor in the possible physical and emotional harm we have detailed above, it is something which should be avoided altogether. Although the dyes used may be relatively non-toxic, they still have ingredients which provide no benefit to the dog, but do carry potential harm, especially for allergy sufferers. As a caring and responsibly dog guardian, you should never dye your dog's hair.
If you want to read similar articles to Why You Should Never Dye a Dog's Hair, we recommend you visit our Fur care category.
1. Smith, L. (2018). Dog almost dies of severe allergic reaction after owner dyed it purple. Retrieved from:
2. FDA. (2022). Hair Dyes. Retrieved from:
3. National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2022). PubChem Compound Summary for CID 174876, Quaternium-52. Retrieved from:
4. DrugBank. (2021). Methylchloroisothiazolinone. Retrieved from:
5. Arctic Fox. (n.d.). Can I use Arctic Fox on my pet?. Retrieved from: