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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Cosmetic 'Doping' in the Dog Show World

There’s much speculation or confirmation that many human athletes, like baseball’s Barry Bonds, Russian female Olympic weight lifters, and others have taken substances for better muscular strength, greater endurance, or speedier recovery. Even recently, a pre-Super Bowl scandal emerged involving Baltimore Ravens player Ray Lewis, who is being accused of purchasing "deer antler spray" containing Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1), about which I wrote in the article Could Your Pet Be Taking a Substance Banned by the NFL?

I then started to consider the means by which doping occurs in the realm of animal-based sporting events. After all, some horses are given Furosemide (a diuretic) to reduce pulmonary hemorrhage (bleeding) that occurs during strenuous activity like racing. I see the medicinal value in this practice, as the horse is less likely to suffer from exercise-induced lung damage.

Actually, I’ve witnessed milder forms of performance enhancement being used on the canine competitors at the Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) All Breed Dog Show. For the past four years, I’ve provided media coverage for the show (see Is the Affenpinscher a Healthy Example of Westminster’s Best in Show?) and witnessed the use of cosmetic enhancing polishes, powders, and sprays in the show’s benching area.

The benching areas are a series of wooden cubicles where the competing dogs and their caretakers are required to remain around their time in the show ring (unless a win propels them onto the next level of competition).

As the WKC is a public benched show, the dog-loving community has access to the canine competitors, their groomer/handlers/breeders, and sometimes even celebrity owners (like Martha Stewart's Genghis Khan, a Chow Chow who won Best in Breed at the 2012 show).

I’m a fan of public benching, as it provides people with many opportunities to become better educated about their preferred breed of dog and then determine if pursuing ownership of that breed is appropriate for one’s lifestyle and financial situation.

Yet, with great transparency also comes complete disclosure about the grooming practices used to get a particular pooch appropriately primped. Although the use of certain products is officially prohibited by the WKC, it's still a practice widely undertaken by seemingly all of the show’s participants.

To clarify the situation, I spoke with WKC’s Director of Communications, David Frei, who informed me that WKC judges must not be able to detect any substances capable of altering a dog's appearance. Frie referred me to the American Kennel Club’s Rules Applied to Dog Shows, by which the WKC abides. The closest terminology I found pertains to cleaning and coloring and agents.

SECTION 8-C. No dog shall be eligible to compete at any show and no dog shall receive any award at any show in the event the natural color or shade of natural color or the natural markings of the dog have been altered or changed by the use of any substance whether such substance may have been used for cleaning purposes or for any other reason. Such cleaning substances are to be removed before the dog enters the ring.

So, does this rule mean that hairspray used to construct a Shih Tzu’s beehive or powders that brighten a West Highland White terrier’s coat are permitted? From my conversation with Frei, I speculate that such products just cannot be obviously felt, seen or smelled by the judges. Would these breeds be judged differently if they had a more “au naturel” look instead being teased to extraordinary heights or radiating a slightly duller aura of white?

From my perspective as a veterinarian, there are health concerns associated with the use of chemicals on or around pets. My own eyes and nose felt the effects of being in close proximity to the dogs that were being exposed to frequent spritzes of hairspray. Aerosolized irritants can easily enter the eyes, nose, mouth, and respiratory tract, and can contribute to inflammation and illness.

What do you think? Should polishes, powders, and sprays be permitted in dog shows?

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Image: Poodle being prepped for competition at the WKC Dog Show, by Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Comments  25

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  • Doping at dog shows
    02/26/2013 10:56am

    while I don't consider 'cosmetics' - i.e. topical application of powder, spray, gels, etc., technically 'doping', I have to agree that the 'cloud of chemicals' that hovers over and wafts through the air circulatory systems at indoor shows can be stifling! Not to mention for the dogs -

    There are breeds - the Havanese, for one, that are supposed to be shown, as you say, au natural - but recently they have started being scissored, trimmed, foofooed w/ all sorts of stuff. Most Judges wouldn't recognize an 'Au Natural' Bichon, ShihTzu or Westie -- and yet there is a move to eliminate ear cropping/tail docking - which serves as a health benefit for the dog - not just a cosmetic procedure. We need to educate the Judges, and the public as to what is and is not appropriate for the breed.

  • 03/06/2013 12:35am

    Thank you for your comments.
    I feel what constitutes "doping" is really anything that contributes to performance enhancement that is not inherent to the pet. Adding hairspray, powder, or polish certainly does not seem as "bad" as taking testosterone, but it all falls under the same general guidelines of "cheating" from my perspective.
    I hope to see you back again on my PetMD Daily Vet page!
    Thank you,
    Dr. PM

  • Judges are the real dopes
    02/26/2013 12:00pm

    Judges are the culprits. They allow this phoneyness, despite prohibitions in the rules and the breed standards. They know what is going on because they've done it all themselves. But they also condone it because, otherwise, they would not be invited back to judge next year.

    One cannot safely inhale around a poodle ring. I have witnessed hair spray being applied in the ring, even, while the judge is looking elsewhere. Poodles are among the worst, what with their hair piece inserts in addition to dyed coats, teasing, tail surgery (not docking, mind you), and hair spray. But that breed is not unique among breeds abused by their handlers. Any "champion" of any breed, which earned points with such phoneyness, truly is a fraud. Actually, the dog's owner and handlers are the frauds. And they are abundant.

  • 03/06/2013 12:37am

    Thank you for your comments.
    It's interesting to hear your personal perspective on witnessing the application of hairspray directly in the ring out of view of a less than observant judge.
    I guess what a judge is or is not able to detect on a competing canine is purely subjective and could be suspect to persuasive oversight.
    Dr. PM

  • Dog show doping
    02/26/2013 02:27pm

    While I agree with most of what the vet is saying about the dog show world,ie., the spraying , chalking, I NOT AGREE WITH THE STATEMENT THAT IN THE HORSE WORLD HE CAN UNDERSTAND THE MEDICAL IDEA OF THE DRUGGING , if the horses were allowed to mature at the natural rate of growth , then they wouldn't need to be drugged to sustain the levels of excersise that they are competed in race horses are raced way to young and not allowed to fully mature that is why there are so many injuries in the field . Now back to dogs in the show world how do you feel about vets who agree to perform corrective surgery for breeders to fix say nasal canals that have been bred to small and closed so the said dogs can breathe knowing the breeder is going to keep breeding this same bloodline again and again and show these dogs to get that special look. I'm not saying don't help the poor dog , but come on this is saying that you agree with the breeder and I think the vet should call AKC and let them know what this breeder is up to because the unsuspecting public is going to buy one of these pups and possible breed and wander why this is happening , so yes they could tone it down with the hairspray and such but I think there are far more serious problems than that right now in the animal world that need to be addressed first .

  • 03/06/2013 12:42am

    Thank you for sharing your perspective.
    In my clinical practice, I always prioritize animal health and safety over all other aspects of pet lifestyle. I am an advocate of genes that are known to be less than perfect as a result of obvious physical imperfections or findings on x-rays, blood testing, or the emergence of unusual diseases (immune mediated conditions, cancer, etc.) NOT being passed onto future generations.
    Such is why I strongly oppose the decision of an organization like the WKC determining that the 2011 winner was the Pekingese for best in show. Electing such a physically deformed animal as the exemplary of its breed standard over many more structurally sound breeds sends the wrong message to the general public.
    I hope to see you back again on my PetMD Daily Vet page.
    Dr. PM

  • Dog show doping
    02/26/2013 04:56pm

    I think your headline is flagrant. There is no correlation between Furosemide or performance enhancing drugs and hairspray.

    The judge comes to a decision by laying hands over the dog and observing their movement and temperament all in accordance of their breed standard.

    My pure bred dog comes in contact with hairspray every time she accompanies me in the bathroom while I do my hair!

    Maybe you have a substance abuse issue in regard to how you hook your readers!

  • 02/26/2013 06:16pm

    Melody, why are you letting your dog be in the room where you use hairspray?

    I stopped smoking 35+ years ago because I saw what the smoke was doing to a dog and cat I had at the time. Just the visible effect it was having on their eyes was bad enough to cause me not to light up again. And never would I allow pets to be in a room where aerosol sprays were being used, let alone some other cleaning chemicals.

    Why would this type of exposure be OK at any time?

  • 02/27/2013 12:33am

    I wouldn't compare smoking cigarettes all day long, day in and day out to spritzing hair spray on myself once a day, or applying it to a dog before going into the conformation ring.

  • 02/27/2013 02:03am

    Neither woudl I, Melody. If that was meant as a jab at the fact that I once was silly enough to suck on pacifiers back when it was fashionable, then make yourself feel better, but to me, what I did 35 years ago, (and it wasn't all day and night like you tried to suggest), doesn't make what owners are doing to their companion animals any better.

    If you are primping show pets with items such as hair spray and talc, you are much worse than I ever was because at least for me it registered that I was doing harm to others than myself and I stopped -- when are YOU going to stop, or has your companion animal turned into a possession to be used for your personal gain? Are you capable of not causing further damage to the airways and skin of your charges?

  • 03/06/2013 12:44am

    Thank you for sharing your perspective, as all views (provided they aren't abusive) are welcome on my PetMD page.
    You may want to reconsider your frequent use of hairspray in the presence of your dog, as there are numerous chemicals found in aerosolized products that are carcinogenic and could potentially cause cancer in your dogs nose or respiratory tract after months to years of exposure.
    Dr. PM

  • 03/06/2013 03:42am

    Your article is misleading. There is no correlation between steroids and hairspray or chalk. What you are doing is driving a bigger wedge between the pure-bred fancy and the rescue adopters.

    For the record, I do not excessively apply hairspray.

  • Dog, horses and doping
    02/26/2013 06:50pm

    I showed horses for years and even though I did not compete in halter (conformation classes) we did do a good deal of grooming and did use enhancers. I was never a fan of hoof polish (too drying) but I did use coat enhancers, mane and tail detanglers (I use that in my own hair) and would whiten socks and blazes, usually with baby powder. I also was a liberal user of fly repellent, because my horses were awful if a fly got near them! Using this stuff outdoors is not a big deal but I would not have wanted to apply most of it in a little room. (The detangler is not a spray and has no odor.)
    Some of the stuff that was done could get a bit extreme. Sanding hooves with electric sanders until they were smooth so that the polish would make them extra shiny, clipping the hair off around the eyes and highlighting with vasiline or a special product made specifically for the job, clipping every last hair out of the ears and greasing them up...these all seemed crazy to me.
    I won't go into what they do to get some breeds to move in an exaggerated fashion or how they "set" tails of some breeds...
    I now show dogs in obedience and most of the dogs look perfectly natural. Poodles have their cuts, of course, but not the strange ones used in the breed ring. They just look nice and neat. My sheltie gets a good almost daily brushing, and occasional bath (in my bathtub) and that is that.
    If the grooming products are not harmful, I do not see it as a big deal. If the sprays are smelly and possibly bad for lungs, skin, etc. then it IS a big deal. I prefer to see the dogs that are shown naturally, such as most herding breeds, with just a clean, well-brushed coat. Some dogs DO need clipping but the styles have gotten rather ridiculous.
    A horse trainer in the Arab world once got into a good deal of trouble when it was found he was having his horses altered through plastic surgery! That was really bad!
    Harmless cosmetics are no big deal. Plastic surgery IS a big deal. Miss America will always wear make-up but it is pretty bad when she also has breast implants, a nose job and liposuction...

  • 02/26/2013 09:44pm

    No beauty product is harmless. Some products just take longer to noticably affect us or our pets. You must be quite young not to have already noted the effects of ingredients in mascara, lipsticks, etc., to be suggesting that there is much difference between beauty pageant contestants wearing makeup and having transplants.

    Whatever beautifying methods one uses on any animals, other than just plain water creating a swirl pattern on a horses rump, as an example, is going to have more and more of an effect the longer it is used, and/or the more potent the chemicals involved.

    Anyone suggesting otherwise has their heads in the sand -- which can also cause damage to face and hair after a time, just as commercial soaps do.

  • 02/26/2013 09:58pm

    I am absoulutly laughing hysterically right now. I am 51. I rarely wear make-up, I am a work-out fanatic, and I am fitter and stronger that most women half my age. There are harmless "beauty products" that one may use on horses and even on people. Cowboy Magic makes excellent products...I use them in my own hair and when I had horses, I used them for the horses. I used the Miss America analogy simply to show that there IS a difference between surgical enhancement and cosmetic enhancement. I seriously doubt those women wear the same sort of cosmetics for every day that they do on stage and I doubt it harms them.

    A "swirl of water" on a horse's rump will not remove deep dirt and scurf. If you do not keep your horse clean he will be itchy and likely to rub out his mane and develop skin problems. My horses always had beautiful skin and coats.

    Dogs do not sweat and should not be bathed as often as horses. My dog is a sheltie and totally natural, as am I. But I doubt a little makeup would kill me, either.

  • 02/26/2013 10:52pm

    Yes, you are right. Your assumptions ARE very funny when you don't get clarification before trying to make someone else out to be wrong.

    First, *decorating* a horse for a show with a "swirl of water" can hardly be equated with keeping a horse clean: http://www.northumberlandnews.com/print/1493268

    As you yourself pointed out, Lucy G., foreign substances on skin do irritate: "If you do not keep your horse clean he will be itchy and likely to rub out his mane and develop skin problems."

    It doesn't matter what animal you are grooming, if you use commercial grooming aids they will eventually have an effect. AND that includes the makeup used in beauty pageants.

    As Dr Tudor was pointing out, the hair spray and talc, just for starters, will likely cause resiratory ailments down the road, depending upon the sensitivity of the animal's immune system to these substances, and to how often they are used. If these things are not affecting you, then you don't have a very good immune system reacting well, so I don't think it would be a good indicator of what might or might not affect your pets.

  • 02/27/2013 05:09am

    westcoastsyrinx obviously has a comment for all of us. Enough said...it's become boring.

  • 02/27/2013 04:04pm

    It is known as "waking-up-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-bed syndrome" and for some people it is a daily condition.

  • 03/06/2013 12:46am

    Lucy G.,
    Thank you for sharing your perspective.
    You just had me laughing hysterically with your comments about "certain" beauty pageant contestants.
    I hope to see you back again on my PetMD Daily Vet page.
    Dr. PM

  • What nonsense
    02/27/2013 06:44pm

    I am glad "Westcoastsyrinx" knows that I have a weak immune system, considering that I NEVER get sick and have more energy than, well, almost anyone I know.
    All I can say is, my 84 year old mother, who has not been seen without makeup in 70 years, still works as an attorney and takes NO medications except for her favorite...chocolate. I do not use makeup because when I am not working at a feed store loading hay and other heavy things, I am working out or taking care of horses and dogs. I'd rather be sweaty than pretty. But, for some people, my mother, for example, who grew up in New York City in an era when women ALWAYS wore make-up, it is a must for their mental well-being. I would guess if you smoke, drink, eat fatty, sugary foods all the time and do not exercise, you are unhealthy. I doubt a bit of makeup would cause too much trouble.
    As for my horses, they never itched, always looked beautiful and I did use "products" on them. Never, in my 30 years of horse ownership, did I have any skin conditions, which I credit to clean stalls and clean horses. I did NOT use hoof polish because it WILL dry out hooves which is always a problem here in California during the summer anyway.
    My sheltie, of course, does not need the bathing horses do and it would not be good for his skin. Gave him a good brushing this morning after my workout, and think it may be time for a bath...maybe after obedience class this afternoon...oh well, time to give my bathroom a good cleaning anyway!
    Have a good day everyone, and if you want to wear a little lipstick, or put some detangler in your horse's tail, I doubt either of you will be the worse for it!

  • 02/27/2013 07:11pm

    Lucy G.: Sadly for you, Westcoastsyrinx knows much, much more about all of us than any of us think or know about ourselves. She is, at least in her mind, all-knowing. So, don't bother to defend yourself. Whatever you say, you would be wrong in her mind.

  • 02/27/2013 07:20pm

    And you, Rod, have just spoken out of both sides of your mouth, dependent upon what will send sniper attacks my way because clearly you want me to be wrong more than yu want to be right.

    Above you were agreeing about grooming aids and now you are defending someone who has to be right and perfect, no matter what other opinions are being expressed. The rest of the world, if they don't agree, is bad.

    Not only are we, and our companion animals breathing aerosols and talc out of the air, as Dr Tudor was originally discussing on this thread, but our companion animals ALSO ingest these chemicals as they later groom themselves, and AS YOU STATED, this type of practice should be stopped at the level where the competitions are organized -- or was that NOT what you were saying???

  • 02/27/2013 07:36pm

    See what I mean, Lucy G.?

  • Show Cats
    02/28/2013 11:24pm

    I'd be curious to hear/read comments about show cats. I can't imagine that people don't do unusual things to Persians.

    As for Persians with an inverted face, I blame the show judges. If that flat face wasn't winning awards, surely breeders would work toward letting cats look like cats. I believe that many years ago Persians actually had a nose!

  • 03/06/2013 12:49am

    Thank you for your comments and for bringing some of this perspective to the feline showing community.
    Having never attended a cat show before, I'm uncertain as to the uses of cosmetics to enhance their appearance.
    As for the Persian cat, it certainly seems as though breeding a cat to have a flat face is not a ideal practice when it comes to prioritizing structural integrity that leads to better health. To that, I'm opposed.
    Thanks again!
    Dr. PM

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