A young Asian girl nuzzles noses with a tabby kittenA young Asian girl nuzzles noses with a tabby kittenA young Asian girl nuzzles noses with a tabby kitten
Barks & Mewsings

The Trupanion blog

Is it Okay to Dye Your Pet’s Fur? What Dog and Cat Parents Need to Know

By: Brianna Gunter

A white dog with purple ears gets its fur dyed by a groomer.

It’s not exactly uncommon to spot a dog with orange ears or even leopard spots dyed into their back. Perhaps you’ve even seen a cat with tail the colors of the rainbow. People are more invested in their dogs and cats than ever, and for many pet parents, fur dyeing is another form of showing off how awesome they are. For some owners who like to color their own hair crazy colors, it may even be viewed as a form of bonding.

But is dyeing your pet’s fur safe?

The short answer is yes, it is possible to safely dye your pet’s fur. But before you reach for the hair color to create your own real-life pink panther, you need to make sure you’re taking the proper precautions.

What are the risks with dyeing pet fur?

One of the biggest risks with dyeing pet fur is that many pet owners go into it thinking that it will be the same process as dyeing human hair. However, human hair dye should never be used on pet fur. It also should go without saying that animals are not likely to be as tolerant of the dyeing process, particularly if things become uncomfortable.

“Just like with people, risk exists for contact sensitivity, irritation, or burns to the skin even with those dyes deemed safe,” explains Trupanion veterinarian Dr. Caroline Wilde. “If the dye is in contact with the skin, it can also be absorbed systemically, so it is very important to critically examine the ingredients of any fur dye.”

Cats can be even riskier to dye than dogs, even when safety precautions are in place. This is because they self-groom regularly and can easily ingest the coloring.

In one tragic 2015 incident, a kitten died from toxic ingestion after licking its fur that had been colored hot pink. However, it is unclear what kind of dye was used.

How can I dye my pet’s fur safely?

A gray cat gets a bath in a tub.

Though Wilde generally recommends against dyeing pet fur, she suggests sticking to natural ingredients. However, this does not negate the importance of getting professional approval before proceeding.

“If a pet owner chooses to dye their pet’s fur themselves, I would advise taking the dye to their veterinarian so that they can look at the ingredients of that specific dye and advise as to its safety,” she says. “I would not trust a label on its own as regulating these labels is difficult, and statements regarding safety aren’t always accurate.”

Pet dyeing safety tips

  • Never use human hair dye on your pet’s fur.
  • Look for dyes that are specifically marked as pet-safe and contain botanically-based, recognizable ingredients.
  • Buy dyes only from a pet store or certified pet groomer.
  • Check out the dye brand’s website for studies backing up their claims.
  • Depending on the country you live in, look for a dye that has attained additional approval through national trials (FDA approval in the United States, for example).
  • Read reviews from your fellow pet parents.
  • Always do a spot test first before dyeing a larger area on your pet.
  • Limit the area you dye to spots where your pet can’t easily lick.
  • Don’t leave dye on longer than the directions say, regardless of how the color looks.
  • Monitor your pet at all times while the dye is setting, and prevent them from licking it.
  • If your pet shows any sign of illness or allergic reaction during or while being dyed, stop the process immediately, rinse out their fur, and contact your veterinarian.
  • If you have multiple pets, don’t assume that the same dye will work for each.

“Lots of topical substances that are safe for dogs are toxic for cats, so again it would depend on specific ingredients,” Wilde says. “For example, flea and tick preventative labelled safe for dogs can be extremely toxic to cats.”

Consider a professional pet dye job

It’s common knowledge that professional salons provide a safer environment (and higher satisfaction rates) for human hair dye jobs than the boxed stuff in a bathroom at home. So, why subject your pet to unskilled hands for their own new look?

“If one decides to dye their pet’s fur, I would consider having it done professionally, asking the groomer specifically if the dye is safe for dogs or cats,” advises Wilde.

At the end of the day, of course, there are plenty of other ways you can “personalize” your four-legged friend, from sparkly colors and colorful harnesses to even pet manicures.

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We’re the official blog of Trupanion—chosen by veterinarians as the #1 pet insurance in America. Here you’ll find useful dog and cat care tips, interesting veterinary insights, and fun pet topics galore.

While you’re browsing our pet blog, please note that the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Trupanion. Our articles are reviewed by veterinarians for accuracy, but they are not a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Always consult with your own pet’s veterinarian for advice.

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