- Explain the scientific difference between a black coat and a white coat.
Black and white coat is predetermined by the DNA genetic make-up of each individual. The epidermal basal cells contain melanin in different concentrations. The more concentrated the melanin particles, the darker both the skin and coat.
In a dark coated dog, there is an increased number of melanocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis. The way I explain it to my customers is like this; when you go to the beach to get a tan, the amount of melanin that you have in your “skin” will determine how deep your tan will get. The way this happens is the UVA/UVB rays penetrate the basal cells and stimulate the tyrosine enzyme which in turn triggers a conversion of the melanocytes to the dark pigment melanin particles. Again, the larger number of melanin particles produced, the darker the skin and hair shaft.In a white or light coated pet, there is a small number of melanocytes. If there is an absence of melanocytes in the basal layer, the pet is considered to be an albino, and there will be no dark pigment on the pet at all. The eyes will be pink/red, the nose, paw pads, and skin will all be pink. A true albino is very susceptible to getting sun burned and should have sun protector applied daily.
- Why does semi- permanent dye not show on a black coat?
Semi-Permanent dyes will not show on a black or darker colored coat due to the pigmentation that is already present in the hair shaft. One way of looking at is if you were drawing on a black or brown piece of paper with a black marker: it wouldn’t really show. You would need to use a white piece of paper to see what you are drawing. Same rule applies here. (I’m over simplifying it without going into the molecular make up of the hair anatomy.)
- Is there a ‘safe’ way to bleach a black/dark coat?
NO! You can’t safely bleach any coat. The reason for this is when you apply any bleaching agent, which as you know has the oxidizing agent hydrogen peroxide as the active ingredient, you permanently damage the hair. The oxidizing agent “Bleach” destroys the natural pigmentation of the hair structure leaving it brittle and weak. Even products that claim to be ‘peroxide free’ contain compounds that make up hydrogen peroxide when mixed. Anything that ‘lifts color’ will destroy the molecular make up of the hair.
- Please explain what happens to the actual hair when bleach is applied?
When bleach is applied to hair it destroys the pigment granules along with affecting the overall structure of the hair shaft causing it to become brittle. It also affects the new hair growth because it can deform the hair follicle, which is where all new hair coat comes from. That part is called the papilla.
- What are the dangers posed to the actual skin? Can bleaching cause permanent damage to the skin?
The dangers range from minor dermatitis to more sever dermatitis with secondary infection. They can also get chemical burns from the hydrogen peroxide in the bleach. The dangers of bleaching can lead to permanent damage in the form of alopecia (hair loss), scaring, thickened leathery skin, and pigmentation changes on the skin.
- Are there risks to the eyes and/or respiratory system? What are the short-term risks? What are the long-term risks?
There are several risks to be aware of when dealing with bleach. In regards to the eyes of animals, they can get conjunctivitis or even eye abrasions that can lead to permanent scaring, and even blindness, if the bleach has not gotten into the eye from a headshake or a paw rub to the face. If the bleach were to get into the eye, they would suffer a chemical burn on the eye and potentially lose the sight in that eye. Please DO NOT bleach tearstains. There are other methods to lift stains out of the coat.
Both cats and dogs have a much more sensitive respiratory system than humans. Their respiratory system will be irritated whether or not they show you [that] they are in distress; this is opening the door to a number of health problems down the road. Long-term effects of using bleach on an animal can lead to asthma or even worse, full respiratory failure.
I have seen the horrible effects of bleach on a Bichon. Long story short, we had the dog in the hospital for 8 weeks, on IV’s, pain medication. We had to sedate him every day so that we could clean the dead skin out of the wound. He lost 1/3 of his skin off of his back and sides due to bleaching. He lost his eyesight in one of his eyes due to the bleach that dripped into his eye. Most of his back was a scar. We all were surprised he lived. He had a great personality after he healed. A lot of lessons came from that Bichon.
- Many groomers feel that bleaching natural stains from the coat is acceptable practice. Are the same risks involved with bleaching a white dog?
If you are dealing with natural stains in the coat like tear or saliva stains, you can lift them with enzymes instead of bleach. It may take you a little bit longer but it is a whole lot safer, and the enzymes will not cause blindness or chemical burns to the pet. If you bleach a white dog whiter, you are going to end up with a coat that is brittle, severely damaged and possibly an area of skin that will no longer re-grow hair because of the extent of the damage from the bleach. Bleaching a white dog poses the same risks as bleaching a dark coated dog.
- Are the risks to the dog compounded by the amount of bleach being used? (I.e. bleaching out 10% of a dogs coat as opposed to bleaching out 50% of a dogs coat)
Any amount of bleach is putting a dog at risk, whether it is 10% or 50% of the dog. You are still exposing the dog to chemicals that are damaging to that pet. You cannot reverse the damages of the bleach.
- What would you say to groomers who say “But I don’t get it on the skin”?
I would let them know that it still reaches the skin. The bleach travels up the hair shaft into the hair follicle then into the hair root, which is below the skin line. The hair follicle and root are located in the dermis of the skin. The skin has 3 layers. The top layer is the epidermis, middle layer is the dermis, which contains the blood supply and nerves, and the bottom layer is the hypodermis, which is the fatty layer that gives the skin its shape. Once these layers are compromised, infections and permanent damage can occur.
- In your professional opinion, is there ever a legitimate reason to bleach the coat of any dog?
I do not believe in using bleach on animals because of all the hazards to the animal and to myself. After more than 30 years in this industry, I have yet to find a legitimate reason to use bleach on a dog. I use enzymes to lift stains or to bring coats back to their true color and texture. The more you know about ingredients and how to use them, the more you can do with your grooming and coloring that is safe for the pet and for you.
Edit: For clarification, the photograph was provided by Dr. Fleck as part of the interview to demonstrate the damaging effects bleach can have on a dog’s skin. It is the understanding of the NAPCG that Dr. Fleck treated the pictured dog and was called to testify in a court case regarding the injuries shown. The NAPCG does not possess the specific details of the court case, nor we do feel that it is necessary to obtain them, as we consider Dr. Fleck a trustworthy source. If anyone has questions or concerns, however, we encourage them to contact Dr. Fleck directly. For more information regarding the NAPCG’s stance against the use of bleach, visit: http://thenapcg.com/2012/07/04/on-the-topic-of-hair-bleach/