‘Panda dogs’ in China zoo spark row as pups are actually dyed canines, practice triggers allegations of animal cruelty

Two extremely popular so-called panda dogs at a zoo in China are actually chow canines dyed black and white to look like the wild bears.

On May 3, a video of the panda-like dogs at Taizhou Zoo in Jiangsu province, eastern China, received 1.1 million likes on Douyin.

“After entering the zoo, I heard many people asking where the pandas were. Then I followed the crowd, and it wasn’t until I reached the enclosure that I realised they were actually dogs,” one visitor said.

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Admission to see the dogs is included in the zoo’s general entry ticket, which costs 20 yuan (US$2.8) per adult.

The zoo states on tickets and signs that the animals are dogs not pandas.

“The panda dog is not a specific breed but rather a pet dog that resembles a panda in appearance,” the zoo says.

The dyed Chow Chows pose at the zoo which openly admits the animals are not pandas. Photo: Baidu

This term is often used to describe dogs whose coats are trimmed into specific styles or naturally have coat patterns similar to the bears.

Their typical features include white coats with black markings, especially around the eyes and ears, resembling the facial features of giant pandas.

“We got the idea of dyeing white Chow Chows to look like pandas from the internet. We aim to increase the zoo’s appeal and attract more visitors,” Liu Qiuming, a member of staff at Taizhou Zoo, told Jiangsu News.

The zoo reportedly serves as a sanctuary for disabled animals and requires significant funds to care for the animals.

“The zoo is too small and cannot afford to bring in real giant pandas,” Liu said.

Some visitors accused the zoo of animal abuse.

“Some people use natural and harmless plant dyes like spinach juice or red dragon fruit. However, the black dye used on panda dogs is definitely a chemical dye that can harm the dogs’ skin,” an online observer on Xiaohongshu said.

Zoo staff explained that the panda dog is a new breed they have introduced, and they are not dyed at the zoo. They claimed the pet-specific dyes used on the animals are similar to human hair colours and harmless.

Others have expressed support for the zoo’s treatment of the dogs.

The zoo says real pandas are too expensive so it opts for disguised dogs instead. Photo: Shutterstock

“The two panda dogs have plenty of food and water, comfortable air conditioning and ample space to move around. They’re lively and playful, so there’s no need to make a fuss,” one visitor said.

However, mainland experts said the dyes are not entirely harmless.

“Pet dyes have a very strong odour and contain organic solvents and industrial dyes, so they cannot be completely non toxic, Chen Huaixia, a chemical engineering professor from Hubei University in central China told Hubei TV.

If pets ingest these dyes by licking their fur, it could be fatal,” she said.

The process could also have psychological effects according to vets.

“After dyeing, dogs may lose their ability to judge their appearance, making them susceptible to depression. I never recommend my clients dye their pets’ fur,” Chen Shiyang, a vet from Nicepet Hospital in Wuhan, central China, told the Post.

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