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Issue: 66 - Jun 15, 2014
Why I Tie-Dyed my Lab Coats
By: Dr. Sally J Foote DVM CABC-IAABC
Dr Sally Foote

Have you ever seen white coat syndrome with pets at the veterinary clinic? You know what I mean - the pet is calm, relaxed or even happy with the staff until the doctor walks in with the white coat.  I have seen this at my office, although the pets who have come in since puppy or kitten hood are so used to rewards at the clinic from me as well as the staff my uniform does not affect them much.  For other pets, the white coat means trouble. Time for needles and poking around that is not fun.  When you remove your coat, the animal is less anxious.

  We note on the medical record what pets have white coat anxiety so I can remove my lab coat before I come into the room.  This has helped a lot to keep the pet less anxious. The problem is now my clothes get hairy or dirty.  I also like the lab coat for the doctor. It distinguishes the doctor from the rest of the staff.   One practice manager pointed out clients will follow the recommendation more often when the doctor is in a lab coat.  So here is the quandary - how do I get the lab coat look without it being white?  Would just a different color make a difference to these white coat syndrome pets?

In my search for non-white lab coats, I found some solid colored ones, and even rainbow tie dyed ones. They were too bold for my taste.  My tech suggested that I tie dye my old white coats to experiment and make it kind of fun.  I have never tie dyed anything, but after reading a few crafting blogs on dyeing it did not seem too complicated.  I actually had fun doing it.

I wanted to keep things as neat as possible and not have a too intense dyeing effect.  The first coat I wetted down then using a paint brush I just brushed the dye onto the coat.  I worked on this in a Rubbermaid under the bed storage box so the mess would be contained.  After I brushed the dye on, I let it sit in the covered tub for 8 hours, then rinsed it clean.  I had a neat, watercolor effect to my coat which everyone liked.  The second coat I used rubber bands to make the typical tie dye effect.  I used the same tub and a small squirt bottle to control applying the dye.  This one had more pattern but was still subtle.

I started wearing these coats which took a little for me to get used to. I guess I am a traditionalist when it comes to lab coats. I pursued and one day, a dog who is usually nervous for exams was acting much better. I was wearing the tie dyed coat and I noticed on the record this dog did not like white coats. That was one time I did not look at the record for his exam notes. The dog usually gets nervous with my white coat, but with my tie dyed coat he was much better. I have made an effort to wear the tie dyed coats with white coat syndrome dogs and they are all acting a lot better. So now I have my solution - a lab coat that protects me, and does not trigger anxiety in the pets as much. 

If you have some white lab coats, try dyeing them.  Let your kids do it for you if you don't want to do it yourself.  There is nothing to lose and your clients will be impressed you went to this effort to make their pet’s exam much easier on them. I have posted some pictures on my blog at www.drsallyjfoote.com - take a peek and see what you think!  Send me your photos too - maybe we will start a new practice fashion trend!