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Dyeing dogs in China takes off

By Emily Chang, CNN
  • Latest trend in pet fashion in China is to dye pets to look like something different
  • Number of pet owners in China is growing rapidly as incomes rise
  • Concerns have been raised over the safety of doing such procedures

Beijing, China (CNN) -- His name is Kung Fu, and he has become a celebrity pet in one Beijing neighborhood. He looks like a panda, and he is named after a panda -- but he is actually a dog with a dye job.

His owners, husband and wife Li Changxian and Yang Kun, say they love pandas so much they decided to give their dog a makeover. The fur around his eyes, ears and paws have been dyed black, and the rest bleached white.

"I think he loves it," says Li. "Since he's been dyed, he gets lots of love and attention."

Passersby stare in awe, as Kung Fu bounds down the street. Children can't wait to pet him.

It's the latest trend in pet fashion in China: dyeing pets to look like something different -- from pandas to tigers to Haibao, the blue Gumby-like mascot of the Shanghai World Expo.

Video: Dye jobs disguise Chinese pets
  • Beijing
  • China
  • Culture and Lifestyle
  • Dogs
  • Pets
  • Asia

In the window of the Ruowen Pet Spa in downtown Beijing, a white poodle has been dyed to appear as if it is wearing a bikini. Next to it is Raphael, named after a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. His fur has been shaved and dyed green. Yes, just like a turtle.

On this particular day, Raphael is getting a touch-up. He belongs to the pet store, and employees say his face is getting a little "faded." First his fur is bleached, then washed, dried and finally dyed. Depending on how extensive the makeover is, the whole process can take up to eight hours.

But how safe is it? Mary Peng, who runs the International Center for Veterinary Services in Beijing, warns that many coloring products used in China may not be tested for pets. The dye can be absorbed through the skin or ingested when pets lick or clean themselves.

"Sometimes these dyes can be fatal for pets," Peng says. "Most of this industry, especially hair dyes and coloring for pets, is so new that there might not be a lot of regulation."

Peng says breeders will even dye puppies and kittens just to make them look more attractive.

"I saw a black-and-white tuxedo kitten who was dyed to look like a seal point Siamese because it would have a higher sale price," Peng says. "This animal did not do very well. There was probably the use of industrial grade hair coloring products. The animal was sick and required extensive treatment and hospitalization."

Peng adds that the number of pet owners in China is growing rapidly as incomes rise and they have more money to spend on their furry friends.

Ruowen Pet Spa also offers a wide variety of fancy pet products and treatments. Pet owner Tomic Chao sits in the waiting area, while his dog is given a rose spa bath, which includes dried rose petals and luxury soap.

Chao says he would never change the color of his beloved dog's fur.

"I think it's okay for people to change their hair color if they want, but how do we know this is what dogs really want, and if it's healthy?"

Store manager Guan Jing, who has dyed many dogs, insists all coloring products are tested and safe. "The dyes we use are made of natural ingredients. We have had extensive discussions with the supplier. Even if the pets lick the dye, it's not harmful to their heath."

Guan also suggests a new "do" can even help a pet's self-image.

"If we encourage and praise the pet, it will understand from our facial expressions that it's pretty and then it will be happy," she says.