SINGAPORE - The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) has said that it is looking into the case of three chow chows which were dyed to look like pandas.
"AVA is looking into the case to ensure that animal welfare is not compromised," the government agency told The Straits Times.
It added that the use of safe, non-toxic food dyes is unlikely to harm the dogs.
But their owner has denied that her actions are cruel and called her detractors "hypocrites".
The chow chows have caused a stir since they were spotted around town with their owner Jiang Meng.
Ms Jiang has since started a service renting out the purebred dogs for photo shoots.
The reaction online has been divided, with some cooing over how cute the dogs are and others chiding Ms Meng for subjecting her dogs to stress and cruelty.
Critics like Facebook user Bibiana Soh said: "I don't see the dogs being cute!! I see them being abused!!!"
Ms Bibiana Soh is also one of four people who started an online petition to protest against the "ill-treatment" of the chow chows.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) said they are strongly against the practice of dyeing animals' fur.
"SPCA is strongly against such a practice and would advise pet owners to refrain from altering their pet's appearance in this way, because it is unnatural and unnecessary. There are also potential side effects with no benefits to the animals - it can be physically harmful and subject the animal to stress in the process. Animals have natural coats and should be appreciated for what they are, rather than trying to alter them artificially. We are unaware of any law existing prohibiting the dyeing of pet's fur."
On her website, Ms Jiang responds to some of these concerns.
She explained that the dogs are naturally white, and the black areas on them are dyed. The dye used is "100 per cent organic and a natural colorant", she said.
She added: "The product we use is readily available off the shelf in Singapore and can be bought in Singapore at dog grooming salons."
Ms Jiang told The Straits Times that her dogs were dyed in a responsible manner in an email describing the process.
She employs a qualified groomer with more than 10 years of experience. During the hour-long procedure, two groomers are present to ensure the dogs do not ingest the wet dye.
The eye area is treated with "meticulous care", she said. The colour is at least 30mm to 1 cm away from the eye lids and is applied with fingers for better control. The dye around the eye area is not washed off with water, but wiped off to avoid it getting into the eye.
She wrote: "Being cruel to a dog is locking it up all day so it gets no exercise, starving a dog to death, not cleaning up after it and letting it live in its own filth, being cruel to a dog is beating it, NOT dyeing your dog with 100 per cent organic product."
Her chow chows can roam and play in a 3,500 sq feet home in Sentosa and live in 20 deg C aircon comfort all day, she said. They are also fed the best dog food and supplements twice a day.
"They are walked and exercised more than any of these people complaining actually walk and exercise their dogs," she said.
She also said there was nothing immoral or cruel about taking photos with dogs and called her detractors "hypocrites". Ms Jiang said she accompanies her dogs on every photo shoot, and they do three shoots a week at most.
"Maybe they have been to see the pandas at Singapore Zoo and exchanged money to do so for photos? Now you can see the total hypocrisy of these people!"
The dyeing of animals' fur is not new. The service has been available in Singapore for years, and The New Paper reported a case of a pomeranian that was transformed into a panda clone back in 2012.
There have been reports since 2010 about the popularity of the practice among pet owners in China. The South China Morning Post reported in 2014 that the trend had caught on in Hong Kong.
In Singapore though, such extreme makeovers are still uncommon.
Dog groomers that The Straits Times spoke to said that there are owners who dye a small part of the dog, such as their tail or paws, but not many would go for such an extensive dye job.
A spokesman for The Pet Loft said that he did not think there is anything wrong with the practice, but has not seen much demand for it here.
"As long as the colouring is safe, and everything is organic, and the dye is not in contact with the skin or sensitive areas, I don't see a problem," he said.
Mr Desmond Chan, co-owner of Bubbly Petz, did not feel it was necessary to dye the fur of animals.
"The dogs don't ask for it and it may result in unwanted attention and stress for them," he said.
Mr Ricky Yeo, president of Action for Singapore Dogs, said it was a form of exploitation.
"Anything chemical in nature is always detrimental to the dog's health. I don't really approve, from an animal welfare point," he said.
He also said that chow chows have a thick coat of fur that is susceptible to the humid climate here, and they are more prone to skin diseases.
But veterinarian Kenneth Tong said if the pets show no sign of distress and the product is non-toxic and not an irritant to the animal, he would not consider it cruel.
The dye used has to be non-toxic as dogs will tend to lick substances placed on them. The procedure should also be done by a trained professional.
He cautioned that care should be taken when dyeing around sensitive regions such as the eyes, muzzle, nose and genitalia "as these areas of the body are most easily irritated and abraded by the harsh chemical if any".
AVA said that pet owners who want to dye the fur of their pets should have a patch test done.
"As there is a possibility of animals developing an allergic reaction to the dye, owners are advised to request for pet groomers to apply a test patch to be done, if the dye is being used for the first time, before application of the dye over a large surface area," it said.