Specialty Grooming for Dogs

By Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM; Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

Some people get a lot of joy from dressing their dogs up and creating innovative hairstyles, trendy outfits, and stylish pedicures.

Dressing your dog up may be amusing (unless you embarrass him with a tacky Christmas sweater!), but when it comes to spa visits, dog owners should use a little caution. Cutting a dog’s hair is a matter of good hygiene as much as good style, but there are some spa treatments that can be problematic.

There is no need to overreact about spa visits because most canine beauty tricks are harmless. You just need to choose safe options when giving your pup a makeover. Seeking the help of a professional might be the best option for the owner who wants a snazzy-but-healthy dog.

Can I paint my dog’s toenails?

Professional groomers take care in handling their patients and use well maintained equipment to avoid clipper burns or cuts. These canine hairdressers use safe shampoos and conditioners, and will use medicated products prescribed by veterinarians when necessary. Groomers clip, wash, dry, and fluff their patients, and commonly put the finishing touches on a canine makeover by painting the toenails with polishes specially formulated for dogs. Canine nail polish contains safe ingredients and dries quickly, often in less than a minute – a real plus when dealing with a wiggly pup.

While dogs look cute prancing on polished tootsies, it is important to choose the right kind of polish. Do not use human nail polish on your dog. Many human products contain toxic ingredients that can make a nail-biting dog sick. Three questionable chemicals in nail polish are dibutylphthalate (DBP), toluene, and formaldehyde. Known as “the toxic three,” these chemicals pose health risks when inhaled or ingested. Plus, the fumes from human polish can irritate the dog’s respiratory passages which are significantly more sensitive than a human's airways.

"Dog owners can purchase doggie nail polish at some pet stores and should read the label to ensure safety."

Pet-friendly nail polish used by professional groomers is made from all-natural ingredients that are safe when inhaled or ingested, such as aloe, green tea extracts, and vitamin E. Dog owners can purchase doggie nail polish at some pet stores and should read the label to ensure safety.

Before polishing the nails, dog owners should examine pads and paws for cracks or open sores that could be irritated by nail polish. They should prevent the dog from licking at the nails, especially while they are wet. When dry, if the dog tries to chew the polish from the nails, it should be removed promptly.

Can I dye my dog’s fur?

Unlike people, dogs do not dye their hair to cover the grey; however, some pet owners add a little flourish to their dog’s hairstyle by dying their fur. Colored hair may make a pet cute, but it can be a health hazard.

There are not many hair dyes specifically formulated for dogs, so pet owners often use human products. There are no studies ensuring the safety of applying human hair dye to dog fur. In addition to potential long-term effects, a dog may suffer immediate problems, such as skin irritation from the ammonia and hydrogen peroxide contained in many hair dyes. This irritation may be more significant in dogs than in humans as the pH levels of skin are different and varying levels of absorption into the skin may occur. While people only dye the hair on their heads, many dog owners dye their dog’s entire body, increasing the chemical exposure.

"There are no studies ensuring the safety of applying human hair dye to dog fur."

Dye may also get in the dog’s mouth, eyes, and ears. Swallowing dye can cause intestinal upset including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Getting dye in the eyes can cause corneal irritation or ulcers in the eye. Dye in the ear canal can cause itching and irritation. In addition, dogs may have a general allergic reaction to the dye resulting in multiple problems.

Even though dying a dog’s fur is not advised, pet owners who are determined to color their dog’s hair should consider making dye from vegetables (e.g., beets, asparagus, cranberries, strawberries, spinach, etc.). Or they can investigate products specifically made for dogs. Dogs should be observed closely after hair dying for signs of discomfort and should see a veterinarian at the first sign of skin redness or itching.

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