Chinese zoo dyes chow chows to look like ‘panda dogs’

'Inevitably the visitors will feel disappointed.'
A dog dyed black and white to mimic a panda cub at Cute Pet Games cafe in Chengdu in China's southwestern Sichuan province on October 23, 2019.

A dog dyed black and white to mimic a panda cub at Cute Pet Games cafe in Chengdu in China's southwestern Sichuan province on October 23, 2019. STR/AFP via Getty Images

Some “pandas” on display at Taizhou Zoo in eastern China’s Jiangsu province are actually fluffy chow chows painted black and white. The zoo is being accused of trying to deceive its visitors with dupes of one of the country’s signature and most symbolic animals. Videos on Chinese social media show two “panda dogs” and an exhibit that opened earlier in May.

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Zoo officials said that the exhibit was clearly labeled as “panda dogs.” According to Chinese state media outlet The Global Times, as reported by The Independent, lawyers for the zoo said “inevitably the visitors will feel disappointed and deceived upon discovering the truth” about the exhibit.

Workers at the zoo also denied the accusations of false advertising, saying that it is a new display and that they are not charging visitors more to see the dogs on top of zoo admission. A zoo spokesperson also defended the exhibit, saying: “People also dye their hair. Natural dye can be used on dogs if they have long fur. There are no panda bears at the zoo and we wanted to do this as a result.”

Using human hair dye can be very dangerous and toxic for dogs and can cause life-threatening injuries. Veterinarians recommend that pet owners use professional grooming services and dog safe dyes only. It is not immediately clear what kind of dye was used to color chow chows fur.   

[Related: Pandas weren’t always bamboo fiends.]

Chow chows are a breed of large fluffy dogs originally from northern China. They appear in Chinese artifacts that date as far back as 206 BCE and could go back every further.  They are popular for their cute and teddy bear-like appearance. Adult chow chows also also have blueish-black tongues likely due to a genetic mutation specifically to the breed.  

This is not the first time that chow chows have been altered to look like pandas. In 2010, a park in the city of Zhengzhou in the neighboring Henann province purchased four dyed chow chows and a golden retriever dyed to look like a tiger. A report from Reuters found that these animals were purchased from a pet market in Sichuan and was an attempt to lure in more visitors. 

[Related: Pandas, which are basically giant poop machines, may inadvertently help save other species.]

In 2019, the Cute Pet Games cafe in Chengdu opened up with six chow chows that were dyed white and black to look like the endangered bear species. The cafe is located in China’s Sichuan province, which happens to be home to several sanctuaries for actual pandas The cafe’s owner also offered a dyeing service for patrons who wanted to give their pets a similar look.