A coat of many colors.
October 19, 2005 11:36 PM   Subscribe

Dyeing my white cat festive colors for special occasions: sick and/or dangerous?

Further, does anyone have any technique pointers or ideas about how long it would last? Assume 1) food dye and gloves and 2) the cat's dignity is a non-issue.
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (55 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

But, if you have no problem with someone dying your own hair the color of their choice without your permission (and with no way to undo it yourself but for to wait for it to fade away) than I suppose what you're proposing should be fine.
posted by dobbs at 11:42 PM on October 19, 2005

If you had a dog, I would suggest that you Google for "Grooming Chalk". But dog's don't lick their fur like cats. You shouldn't apply something to a cat when it will turn around and start licking it off.

Interesting that you submitted this anonymously. It's almost like you know that it's wrong...
posted by seymour.skinner at 11:58 PM on October 19, 2005

Pfft. Now I can't speak for cats, specifically, but back in the day I had reason to visit a certain headshop aptly named "Harley Hippies". The owners there had this habit of dyeing their smallish fluffy white dog in colors to match his aura. The dog didn't seem to mind. I'd be more worried about you after keeping a cat still long enough to dye it...
posted by Vervain at 12:12 AM on October 20, 2005

The idea is a little creepy to me, but it's apparently not that uncommon. There's a book on cat-painting called Why Paint Cats. It has pictures of a lot of painted cats who look none the worse for wear. All of the cats are painted with non-toxic vegetable-based dye, which is theoretically not harmful if they lick it off.

I would not put food dye or any other artifical chemicals on a cat's coat, that stuff isn't good to eat in large quantities. Better yet, though, I would take lots of pictures of my white cat and go to town on them in Photoshop. That plus a good photo printer equals a result almost as fun as a real-life painted cat.
posted by rhiannon at 12:19 AM on October 20, 2005

Gosh why would you assume that "...the cat's dignity is a non-issue..."? I think the animal will be a little startled to see itself some other colour, to say the least.

Don't you and your cat get along?

I won't label this sick but maybe a little dangerous - dangerous to the cat's mental well being.
posted by Mutant at 12:26 AM on October 20, 2005

There's a book on cat-painting called Why Paint Cats. It has pictures of a lot of painted cats who look none the worse for wear.

This book is a gag; many of the photos in it are clearly Photoshopped. The authors have several other books in the same vein, including "Why Cats Paint," "Dancing with Cats," "Famous Painted Cats," "Cat Artists and their Work," "The Kama Sutra for Cats," etc. Nobody is painting cats.
posted by kindall at 12:40 AM on October 20, 2005

I have known cats with a sense of humor and, if the dye is harmless, I don't see a problem. Perhaps it depends on the cat. You know your cat better than anybody. Let your conscience be your guide.
posted by wsg at 1:05 AM on October 20, 2005

Does it have to be paint? If you just want to add color to your cat, maybe a festive ribbon or two would be satisfactory. If not, there does appear to be a large market for pet clothing... that could give you color without having the dye the little guy.
posted by aiko at 1:45 AM on October 20, 2005

Wow, you're anonymous over this! lol Why would it be obnoxious or demeaning? People color their hair all the time. If you want something less permanent, I would look into the safety of the colored hair spray people use at halloween.
posted by leapingsheep at 4:33 AM on October 20, 2005

Your cat will probably hate you -- how long is really immaterial. Cat pee, as Optamystic says, will last a while.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:07 AM on October 20, 2005

Really? Seriously, why would that cat hate him/her? They're color blind. I would never, ever want to be mean to a kitty. I just don't understand why this would be considered mean. Please tell me, because I'm a little worried about why I see nothing wrong with something everyone thinks is mean.
posted by leapingsheep at 5:10 AM on October 20, 2005

I don't understand why people think the cat would hate this. Maybe other peoples' cats are more fashion concious then mine is. The only thing I can see wrong with this, assuming there are ways of doing it that are 100% safe, is that it is, in my honest opinion, a bit tacky.
posted by chill at 5:17 AM on October 20, 2005

I think it's a bit goofy, although I'm not above making fun of my own cats from time to time. You should call a vet, though, and make absolutely sure whatever you use isn't going to be harmful to the cat when it licks its fur.
posted by JanetLand at 5:23 AM on October 20, 2005

I saw a dog on the subway once who was orange- the owner explained to me she dyes the dog all the time with a spray bottle of food coloring in water. Some problems I can see are how you'll get the color off when you want to, or possibly streaking and running of whatever dye you use (do you really want a big blue blotch on your white couch, carpet, etc?)
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:26 AM on October 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

maybe you could just dye his head, where he can't lick.
posted by leapingsheep at 5:30 AM on October 20, 2005

Personally, I don't think there's a real problem with changing the colour of a cat, I'm sure there are pleanty of non-toxic dyes around and it's all feasible.

The problem comes from that fact you'd have to restrain the cat to dye it, prevent it from licking itself while it was drying and worse somehow stop the cat racing around the house rubbing against anything white it can find. I'm not sure if that part is fair to the cat.

Off Topic...

"Triple D Farm and Hatchery, in Palmer, injects the eggs with dye to produce multi-coloured baby chicks."

(I'm not suggesting you inject cat eggs either!)
posted by RevDanCatt at 5:30 AM on October 20, 2005

Really? Seriously, why would that cat hate him/her? They're color blind. I would never, ever want to be mean to a kitty. I just don't understand why this would be considered mean. Please tell me, because I'm a little worried about why I see nothing wrong with something everyone thinks is mean.

I think that the issue is an overdose of anthropomorphizing. It is not plausible that a cat could suffer merely from being a different color, though it seems extremely likely that the cat would indeed hate the process of getting that way. (If the dye made the cat's fur feel or smell significantly different, though, it's also a different story and possibly mean.)
posted by redfoxtail at 5:32 AM on October 20, 2005

Oh honestly people, we are talking about a thoroughly domesticated creature here. We brand cattle, shave sheep and apply flea-repellent to dogs; this is much the same thing. As long as the cat is not actually being harmed physically (ie painfully restrained, or exposed to unhealthy toxins via their fur, which they clean), I think painting your cat is pretty harmless.

From a practical standpoint, I can suggest one method not to use: do not gather 5 people in a small bathroom, hot-box it, and then watercolour your white cat. Just sayin'. The cat didn't actually seem to mind too much, but we sure got paint on every single surface in there! This was almost 10 years ago, and the cat in question is still alive and well and demanding affection, so clearly no permanent harm was done to her.

Also, be aware that if your cat's paws get wet for any reason, you will be the lucky owner of furniture/carpeting with tiny colourful pawprints all over them.
posted by id girl at 6:08 AM on October 20, 2005

Don't do this. Seriously. While the cat may not notice the color, it will notice the smell, even if you can't smell anything. Cats are clean freaks, and yours will probably frantically try to lick off the dye. This has 3 consequences. First, it means that the cat's going to ingest a lot of the dye. Secondly, it'll piss off and upset the cat. Thirdly, it will make the colors all streaky, so the dye job won't even look that great. If you want your cat to look different, just get it a new collar or something.
posted by unreason at 6:10 AM on October 20, 2005

This is awesome. Please do it, and please post pictures.
posted by LarryC at 6:23 AM on October 20, 2005

What unreason said. It's not about the color, for heaven's sake, it's about getting the cat all messy. Cats hate getting messy; the first thing they do is lick themselves clean. This isn't like dying your hair, it's like being dipped in a cesspool. I can't believe those of you who think it's neat-o have ever spent time around a cat.
posted by languagehat at 6:32 AM on October 20, 2005

When we were younger, we spent a lot of time altering our indoor cats' appearances. None of our techniques resulted in any animal's physical suffering, and they remained crazy yet affectionate. Don't use food coloring; the stuff rubs off the second it touches anything damp. The best coloring technique: cherry kool-aid dip. (It helped that our cats liked water.) Rinse well -- and scrub the tub after; that stuff will stain like a mofo -- and you have a pink cat for a couple of months. (I don't recommend grape. It fades to a nasty grey color.)

For heaven's sake folks, it's like any other pet grooming. Done properly and safely, no one gets sick, dies, or becomes mentally unstable.
posted by ohcanireally at 6:38 AM on October 20, 2005

My parents very strongly feel that coloring your cat is a bad idea. I know this because when I was 7, I took washable non-toxic magic markers, and colored my childhood cat's white paws purple. She looked fantastic but I was in major trouble for a couple weeks.

However, my cat lived to 22, so using washable, non-toxic Crayola markers is probably safe.
posted by catfood at 6:40 AM on October 20, 2005

I say go for it--but make it as safe as possible. Child-safe non-toxic products are probably the way to go. I think it would be amusing for you (once the scratches healed), harmless to the cat, and a great treat for kitty-lovers everywhere when you share the pictures.
posted by Mo Nickels at 6:56 AM on October 20, 2005

leapingsheep, that spray-on stuff is full of nasty chemicals and isn't stuff I'd want on my own hair, let alone that of a pet that licks itself a lot. Human semi-permanent hair-dye probably isn't much better to ingest. Kool-aid or food coloring would be the only things worth considering.

As for all the people talking about how cruel and demeaning this is - I think it depends a lot on the cat, honestly. This kind of thing would probably work much better on laid-back cats [and cats that don't mind being wet.] Actually, now that I think about it, I know a cat that did get a patch of its fur dyed. I think someone had spilled food coloring or something - the cat really didn't seem to care. It certainly didn't go into a frenzied and unhappy burst of licking itself. I do doubt that most cats would have that kind of reaction, but if anonymous' cat seems like it's the sort that might be fine, I don't see it as cruel and demeaning.
posted by ubersturm at 7:19 AM on October 20, 2005

The horse of a different color, that was in the Wizard of Oz, was dyed using IIRC, Jell-o or some reasonable facsimile. So, your cat might lick it off, but he/she would just be eating sugar [and gelatine which is good for hair and nails]
posted by jessamyn at 7:22 AM on October 20, 2005

Do it. Your cat isn't going to hate you. He's a cat, for Christs sake. They know neither hate nor love. The process might make him squirm for a second or two, but he'll get over it.

People clip their cats nails, shave them, put little plastic cones on their necks, squeeze them onto flatbed scanners, and pose them in cute widdle outfits so they can post pictures of them on the Internet. I've never heard of any of these cats saying "fuck this shit, I'm out of here."

Just make sure it's a non-toxic dye. And maybe you might think about putting one of those plastic cones on his neck until it dries.

It's a cat. A bowl of food and 30 seconds of scritchies and they'll get over anything that doesn't physically harm them. Anyone who says otherwise is confusing their own emotions with that of the cat's.
posted by bondcliff at 7:25 AM on October 20, 2005

I think the kool-aid might be the way to go. I don't see why you shouldn't do it, with a couple of reservations... I'd be worried that something that isn't toxic to people might be toxic to cats, worried if the smell would drive it crazy, and worried about getting the dye all over the house. Maybe you could do a small patch first to see how much it bothers the cat, how long it lasts and if it comes off on stuff?
posted by crabintheocean at 7:25 AM on October 20, 2005

I hear that highlighters work.
posted by Eamon at 8:00 AM on October 20, 2005

Really? Seriously, why would that cat hate him/her? They're color blind. I would never, ever want to be mean to a kitty. I just don't understand why this would be considered mean. Please tell me, because I'm a little worried about why I see nothing wrong with something everyone thinks is mean.

You're going to have to hold your cat down in some way, apply something to its fur that at best doesn't smell like anything to YOU but in all liklihood smells like something to the cat, that the cat will then spend probably a LOT of time licking off its fur. I imagine that nontoxic or not, even markers are going to taste foul to a cat, so unless you make cat fur paint with tunafish juice, you have a cat that has been held down by its owner (whom it is supposed to trust, for crissakes) and then the owner has applied stinky, nasty tasting whatever it is to the cat. Not to mention the fact that, as others have said, you're going to have to deal with flying cat getting marker/kool aid/whatever all over your stuff, all over you, scratching, biting, whether or not what you've used is toxic to the cat, and depending on your cat's particular threshold for this type of BS, your cat will be terribly unhappy or neurotic for at least some stretch of time. There are a lot of things people to their cats that if they asked me, I'd say were stupid and mean, whether or not the cat "gets over it" eventually or not. This is one of those things.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:18 AM on October 20, 2005

Just reinforcing everyone else, if you want to do it, fine. Just use something that won't make your cat curl up into a trembling bundle and die after seven hours of painful sounding mewing.

I think the jello ideas sound good and there's a bunch of fun flavors. The cat will get a whoop every time it cleans itself in a new place. "My God, my ass tastes like strawberry!"
posted by Atreides at 8:20 AM on October 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

id girl said: We brand cattle...

Wow. I feel sorry for you that you're so out of touch that you don't realize that cattle don't like being branded.

Just reinforcing everyone else, if you want to do it, fine.

Sorry, but it's not everyone else that you're reinforcing.

*leaves the thead, stunned at the lack of empathy*
posted by dobbs at 8:30 AM on October 20, 2005

This seems like a terribly wrong idea to me. Please be aware that if you dye your fluffy white cat, you will bear the full weight of popular opprobrium.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:42 AM on October 20, 2005

Sounds like fun. This has about the same level of cruelty as accostomizing a cat or dog to a collar, not allowing a dog to pee till YOU say so, having a dog wear a little backpack on a hiking trip, applying anti-flea cream, etc. Sure they might not understand, and it might alter their appearance or habits, but it's not wrong unless keeping a pet is wrong in itself.

As long as you don't hurt Kitty with harsh chemicals, I say go for it. Your biggest worry here is other people thinking that you've hurt your feline friend. Be careful witht the chemicals and attentive to not freak your cat out, and it'll be no worse than a warm bath and far less toxic than a flea treatment.
posted by lorrer at 9:29 AM on October 20, 2005

I think it depends a lot on the cat, honestly.

Absolutely, and I'm aware there are some cats who wouldn't mind this at all; I may be overly influenced by my own experiences with persnickety cats. But you'd better be pretty sure which category your cat falls into before doing something like this. And frankly, I don't see why anyone who respected their cat's individuality would want to do this in the first place. It's not a toy, it's a fellow creature with a mind (however tiny) of its own.
posted by languagehat at 9:32 AM on October 20, 2005

You can do it safer by simply ensuring their food supply is "tainted" with a large amount of the food colouring you're looking for the cat to end up. 100% food use approved and safe!

Think why flamingoes are pink, etc. :-)

Just watch what colour the litterbox ends up, though.
posted by shepd at 9:40 AM on October 20, 2005

Medieval Maven. you do realize that cat owners already do things to their cats that most cats do not enjoy at all, like bathing them, putting them in tiny cat carriers for hours at a time in cars or planes, neutering them [and believe me - a cat that's just come back from being spayed is not a happy cat], flea shampoos, trimming or capping or otherwise messing with their claws, etc. The reasons may be less frivolous, but I really doubt that the cat can tell the difference between you holding it down and covering it in nasty-smelling/tasting flea shampoo and you holding it down and covering it in kool-aid or something. If you think that your cat can discern the fact that you are doing things for its own good, you're probably anthropomorphizing your cat a little bit too much. Looking at the mechanics of how the dyeing process works [and assuming that anonymous isn't dumb enough to use toxic dye or try it on a cat that's hyper-finicky about cleanliness], I really don't see how the process itself is more cruel than any of the sorts of things that cat owners do for other reasons.

crabintheocean's suggestion to try out dying a smaller area sounds like a good idea though. See if your cat deals well with the process and with having dyed fur before going further and dyeing it completely.
posted by ubersturm at 10:10 AM on October 20, 2005

The *cat* doesn't really need to understand that you're making it uncomfortable for its own good. I would hope that *you* as a human being would only cause that kind of discomfort if there were a valid reason to do so. That's why we speak of humane treatment to animals -- we're judging the appropriateness of *our* behavior, not the cat's reaction.
posted by occhiblu at 10:27 AM on October 20, 2005

Can I add, that in addition to how demeaning / unpleasant / dangerous this will be to the cat, it's also a really oligophrenic idea, and will just show off the owner's lameness to the world?
Seriously, even if the cat loved the whole process, smell, taste, it would still be a stupid idea.
posted by signal at 10:28 AM on October 20, 2005

ubersturm, occhiblu beat me to it. Yeah, we do things to cats that they don't like, but that's generally for their own good. Shots, trips to the vet, and non-leathal grooming practices may not be fun, but are largely necessary for the cat and the human to coexist happily. Dying your cat like an old-school Easter chick is not necessary nor is it humane. It's just stupid and mean. Whether or not it's more cruel than something else that's actually necessary is completely irrelevent. I wouldn't demean myself by treating another being for which I was responsible in an unnecessarily distressing manner.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:37 AM on October 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

I bet beet juice would work.

Dye may end up wherever the cat hangs out, so make sure it's a color you really like.

I don't think it's mean or awful, just silly.
posted by theora55 at 10:50 AM on October 20, 2005

As long as the dye is safe I don't know why this would be worse for the cat than bathing it. Which, depending on the cat, can be significantly bad and I hope you have lots of bandages.
posted by furiousthought at 10:50 AM on October 20, 2005

Because bathing a cat can be necessary. This is wholly unnecessary.
posted by occhiblu at 10:54 AM on October 20, 2005

Declawing a cat? Inhumane.
Shooting a cat with a water pistol when it's sleeping on the couch so you don't have to vacuum? Mean.
Covering a cat with a spritzer bottle full of orange kool aid when it thinks you're grooming it? Comedy gold.
posted by dness2 at 10:57 AM on October 20, 2005

I dyed my white cat a lovely shade of baby blue when she was little - she appeared to suffer no ill effects. I used unsweeted kool-aid, which I dampened to make a paste then rubbed into her fur with a minimum of warm water. She is remarkably tolerant of getting wet, which is probably the only reason I survived. She was absolutely adorable, stayed blue for about two months, and smelled like blue raspberries, which she didn't seem to mind at all.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:01 AM on October 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

I say go for it, for all the positive reasons listed above. And gosh, having a baby blue cat sounds cute.
posted by limeonaire at 11:43 AM on October 20, 2005

Last easter, I dyed my white cat's tail pink with Kool Aid. She didn't seem to mind, but she is very tolerant.

I also once dyed my white ferret half blue/half pink. ONLY with Kool Aid though. Also, keep in mind that it could be months before it fades out. The dark red and blue kool aid works the best. The others not so much.
posted by phox at 1:38 PM on October 20, 2005

I love the idea on this thread that having a connection with your cats emotions/instincts, however you see it, is seen as anthropomorphising, and not the hair dying. I would think that the latter is more projecting.

Your cat is not an object. You should be able to appreciate your cat for what it is, not for its potential to harbor your boredom or beauty desires. Regardless of how people on this thread are using "anthropomorphising," a cat does respond to its owners emotions and depends on routine. Dying the cat is a whole production, which can be frightening to a skittish cat, and importantly, changes the way you are relating to your cat by objectifying it, thus resulting in a potentially upsetting situation. Cats hate change. Leave it alone.
posted by scazza at 3:06 PM on October 20, 2005

Covering a cat with a spritzer bottle full of orange kool aid when it thinks you're grooming it?

What cat likes spray bottles?!
posted by scazza at 3:17 PM on October 20, 2005

Hrm. I wonder if these cat rights people ever tied a long sock around a feline's stomach? Its humiliatingly funny!
posted by Atreides at 3:36 PM on October 20, 2005

I don't think food dye is supposed to be ingested in large quantities. You only use a drop or two in cooking (and most recipes you'd add color to are meant for more than one serving). I don't know how healthy it would be for a cat to ingest all that dye (when bathing itself).

But if you gotta do it, I'd suggest you ask your vet or a groomer. They'd have the best advice regarding safety and techniques.
posted by necessitas at 4:36 PM on October 20, 2005

Hrm. I wonder if these cat rights people ever tied a long sock around a feline's stomach? Its humiliatingly funny!

[scurries off to find a sock]

Pets and children exist for our amusement. Using them as such is appropriate.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:23 PM on October 20, 2005

meh, we ONLY keep cats for selfish reasons, so why the moralising?

Go for it.
posted by wilful at 5:23 PM on October 20, 2005

The sock did nothing.

Crouching and staring at him unblinkingly for five minutes just about drove him squirrelly, though.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:33 PM on October 20, 2005

Disregarding the moral/ethical/pros/cons/etc of whether or not this is a good idea, keep in mind that dying a cat's fur will involve getting it wet. Unless you have an *extremely* tolerant cat, dyeing its fur is *not* going to be a pleasant experience for anyone involved. I bathed my kitten once in an attempt to drown the fleas that he picked up (he was a stray, it was before we could get him on Advantage), and I will never forget the horrendous yowls that came out of that small animal.
posted by radioamy at 11:45 PM on October 23, 2005

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