Ethical Paintings with Animals

Animal paintings are a super popular item in our Etsy shop, but we also get a lot of questions about our painting process and whether or not the animals like it. The short answer is YES! We only paint with animals who enjoy it. We would never put an animal’s health or happiness at risk just to do paintings, even if they are an important part of raising money for our shelter.

But here are a few more details in case you are curious about animal paintings!

Animal Painting Materials

Our animal paintings are typically done on stretch canvasses or paper, because it is easy and safe for the animals. We don’t want to have them climbing during this process in case they slip in the paint. The canvases are flat on the ground and the animals walk on them (they typically don’t even notice them).

As far as paint goes, we use a non-toxic water-based formula that is completely safe for the animals. It is actually specially made for this process and similar to the face paint used for kids. That said, we never paint with animals who have extremely sensitive skin, such as frogs and newts. In fact, we don’t even touch amphibians without gloves. We also never paint with animals who have any kind of open wound that is healing, such as animal might have after being recently spayed.

The Animal Painting Process

First and foremost, we want to make sure this is a fun enrichment activity for animals, not something that stresses them out. So, we typically paint with animals only a few times per year. It really depends on the species, but rest assured that we are not running a painting sweat shop!

Animals paint as a way to work their brains. We incorporate toys and treats as is appropriate to encourage natural behaviors. They think they are playing in the mud. We put some paint on the ground in a very large tub that we have, and then the animals can walk wherever they want… or not! Sometimes, an animal isn’t interested in painting, and that’s okay.

It an animal shows any sign of stress at all, they are immediately removed and placed in a soak bin to remove any paint. We keep track of animals that do not enjoy painting so they don’t paint in the future.

For most animals, the bath is the stressful part. So, we only paint with animals who have to get a bath anyway. Most animals need a bath at some point for health or cleanliness reasons. Some animals, such as bunnies, are only bathed under the most dire circumstances, such as arriving at our shelter with a very bad flea infestation or as directed by a vet. Other animals, like snaked, need to soak regularly (it helps them digest and shed).

There are a few animals that will never paint with us because it is not advisable to bathe them under any circumstances. Most of the bunnies in our care do not paint (there are exceptions when a bath is in the best interest of the animal). Chinchillas also never paint because it is never advisable to get them wet – it can actually cause health problems to bathe a chinchilla because their fur is so dense.

Some Other Animal Painting Questions

Here are a few final FAQs about animal paintings:

Q: Can I order a custom animal painting?
A: Yes, but we have NO control over what the finished product will look like beyond the size of the canvas and the colors! We do our best to move canvases around as the animal is playing, but they are ultimately up to how they interact with the canvases. You also may need to be patient to receive a custom order. Even animals that absolutely LOVE to paint only paint around 6 times per year. We want to keep this as a special activity. So, if an animal recently painted, we may not be painting with them for quite some time. Email to learn more about a custom order.

Q: Can I watch the animals paint?
A: Maybe! We don’t typically have a painting schedule. At a small shelter like ours, plans to paint are often put on hold because we get a call about an animal that needs our help or because we get backed up on animal care work. Animal care always comes first. But if you happen to be visiting on a day we are painting, our paint area is open to the public for viewing. If you book a party at our facility, we might be able to do animal painting during your party, but this is at the discretion of our director based on volunteer availability, animal health, and other factors.

Q: Do the animals really enjoy it?
A: Yes. Well, most of them. Sometimes, we start to paint with an animal that is clearly not having a good time. When that is the case, they are IMMEDIATELY removed from the painting area, given a bath if necessary, and given love and attention from one of our trained keepers. As an example, we once had a group of four ferrets who were enjoying the playtime, and then one of them suddenly realized that she had paint on her feet and started shaking them to try to get it off. We immediately put her in the soak bin we keep nearby to get her clean, and she was able to watch from the sidelines and play with a keeper while her friends finished painting. You know how some dogs love to roll in mud and others avoid getting dirty at all costs? Exotic animals are the same. Some of them love it and others do not. We never know how an animal will react the first time they paint.

Q: What happens to the money you make?
A: It goes back to our shelter, into our general fund, which pays for things like food, vet bills, facility rent/utilities, contractor fees, advertising, toys, grooming items, and everything else we need to run a shelter. When you buy a piece of art created by our animals and volunteers, you are making a direct donation to our shelter so we can save more lives.

Q: Which animals like to paint?
A: Shio the fox LOVES to paint. He would paint every day if we let him. Blue the Savannah monitor also seems to enjoy it. He typically walks in the paint and plops down on the canvas, so we get a lot of belly prints from him. Most of the time, ferrets also enjoy playing in the paint, but there are exceptions (see above). In general, our snakes are very curious, but it is hit or miss. When they slither up to the paint, some of them slither right through it and others take another route to avoid it (which is okay with us – it is up to them).

Q: Does Jr the bunny paint?
A: At this time, no. Jr. has done a few paintings in the past, which are professionally framed and hanging at our shelter. They are available for donors; please visit the shelter to inquire about price. Jr. is a trained emotional support animal who is used to bathing for medical reasons. He has been bathed since he was a baby to get him used to the process. So, unlike most bunnies, occasional bathing doesn’t really stress him out. However, he does have some health issues with his feet due to his breed. Therefore, we are not painting with Jr. at this time. We hope that in the future his feet will heal and he’ll be able to become an artist again (if he wants to)

Q: Where can I buy an animal painting?
A: They are available at our shelter or in our Etsy shop.