Unleashed Education Blog

Why Coloured Powder Shouldn’t Be Used in Pet Photography

pet photography tips Nov 03, 2022
Coloured powder dangers for dogs

By Craig Turner-Bullock

Coloured Powder is a controversial topic and, like it or not, these highly stylised colourful images are hot stuff in the world of pet photography right now.

But what price are you willing to pay for capturing pooches amidst these explosions of colour?

Let me start by saying that this is entirely my opinion. I have had conversations with professionals across the pet industry, including dog trainers and veterinarians, groomers and of course other dog photographers. I do not hold any ill will to those who choose to photograph powder images and I do not intend this to be a personal attack on anyone who does. However, I do hope if you’re reading this and you are someone who offers powder sessions at the moment, you will reconsider.

When we started Unleashed, Charlotte and I had some rules in place for our groups, One of these rules is ‘no images of unsafe practices'. This rule covers images taken on train tracks and any other type of shot that could be potentially dangerous or life-threatening for the photographer or their subject. There’s a good reason powder shots went on that list immediately.

Why Are Powder Shots Unsafe?

Not all powder is non-toxic, there are several types of powder actually known to be toxic to dogs; Holi powder, gulal, and talcum powder all contain potentially lethal toxins including Mercury Sulphate, metal oxides and lead.

Even powder that is sold as herbal and non-toxic is not devoid of danger. Powders made up of corn starch and colouring, even when Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act approved, can be hazardous when ingested or inhaled. These chemicals may have been tested as safe for human use but they have not been checked for safety with dogs. Assumptions are dangerous moves, we know many foods that are safe for people, but not dogs. All these poor dogs can never know the joy of a bar of rich dark chocolate or a warm bowl of French Onion Soup. (Just in case you're reading and don't know, chocolate and onions are VERY bad for dogs!)

These powders are so fine, even if they are carefully placed away from the dog's head and eyes, and every effort is made to try and ensure they only run forward away from the powder, they will still inhale it the instant it gets into the air, and for long afterwards. An excitable dog in motion can quickly twist and turn in any direction, so thinking inhalation can be prevented is foolhardy at best. 

Even when the dog has been cleaned, residue powder lingers in the air and their fur providing further opportunity for inhalation and ingestion.  

We are HUGE advocates for positive body language and expression in dog photography. One of the best ways to capture that is to give the dogs a positive experience. There’s no way to know, until the powder is on the dog, how it will react. They may become stressed, scared and in extreme cases, they may even become aggressive. This kind of experience is never good for the dog, or a great client experience.

Adverse Health Effects of Powder on Dogs

After speaking with a couple of vets, and an animal naturopath here are some of the possible health concerns that were raised in our discussions.

  • Skin Conditions - Many powders are known to induce skin allergies and inflammation in dogs, especially in short-haired breeds. The constant itching and scratching associated with it can also lead to skin rashes and hair loss.
  • Vision Impairments - Coloured powder can be detrimental to a dog's vision, they could even lead to permanent loss of eyesight.
  • Respiratory Conditions - Powders can enter through the nasal tracts of pets extremely quickly. On inhalation, powders can cause breathing difficulties, lung infections and other respiratory issues. Scientific evidence shows that these fine powders can collect in the bronchioles and alveoli in the lungs causing long-term health defects.
  • Poisoning - Dogs have a habit of cleaning themselves by licking. In doing so, they can end up ingesting a lot of the substances applied to their body. Even after they have been cleaned, brushed or washed, powder residue and colour can remain on their skin and fur for weeks. Ingestion can cause stomach or gastrointestinal issues, allergic reactions and low blood pressure. Some powders contain lead which is a slow poison that can be fatal for both humans and dogs.

What Can You Do Instead of Using Powder?

In a world where access to image editing software is so freely available, it’s pretty easy to create a colourful powder or a smoky, swirly effect in the editing stage. It probably gives you more control of the final result too!

You can easily set up a plain-coloured backdrop, or even use a white wall and photograph smoke. 

Use coloured smokebombs and photograph them. You can also use candles or matches if you don't have access coloured smoke. Build up your own stock library of smoky images. 

Use these images to layer over your best dog action shots in Photoshop, using masks and brushes and a variety of layer blending modes to get the desired effect.

Et Voila, there you have it and there was no risk to the dog's health in the process!

A Final Thought

Powder sessions with dogs have become quite a trend for a little while now. It has become quite a cliche in this little niche of ours, along with the likes of treat catching and flower crowns. I guess the only difference with the latter two is they are both safe, risk free practices. 

In a world where everyone is blending in and one Collie running with powder coming from its back is basically the same as another, surely it would be better to invest your time and energy on making something that is uniquely yours, that stands out in a crowd and that is safe for all involved.

If you want some further reading have a look at this and this from the National Library of Medicine, one on the dangers of exposure to corn starch powders, the other on the inflammatory responses of Holi Powder.

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