2017-03-13 08:24:08

Tiny boots, sweaters, and even tutu skirts for dogs are already popular among China’s animal lovers, but next winter might see the rise of a new fashion accessory that’s not just fancy, but also good for dogs’ health: snout masks to protect man’s best friend from air pollution.

Of course, the market for human face masks is much larger than its canine counterpart, said Christopher Dobbing, the founder and CEO of Cambridge Mask, which already produces a line of colorful face masks for people. “But we want to give desperate pet owners some better options than having to try using human masks on pets, which can be distressing for the animals,” Dobbing told Sixth Tone.

Cambridge Mask is currently working on the designs, but expects to produce the first line of canine snout masks before next winter, when air pollution levels are usually higher than in the summer, Dobbing said. “We aim to have them ready before next pollution season,” he said.

The idea for the snout masks came from Mary Peng, CEO and founder of the Beijing-based International Center for Veterinary Services, who approached Dobbing with the proposal.

In recent years, Peng has seen more and more dog owners put ordinary face masks over their dogs’ snouts, hoping to protect them from the dangerous ultrafine PM 2.5 particles that can cause long-term health issues, including lung cancer.

But masks need to fit tightly to be effective, Peng said. “The human masks that exist cannot be manipulated to fit over the snout of a dog properly,” she told Sixth Tone, adding that a number of dog owners have lamented the lack of alternatives.

Peng is now helping Cambridge Mask with the research and design for the snout masks. The biggest challenge for the manufacturer, according to Peng, is that unlike humans, dogs’ heads and snouts differ widely in size and shape. In addition to fitting tightly, the masks will need to be big enough to allow the dogs to lick their noses, and the material must be able to absorb moisture from drooling.

The designs that Cambridge Mask is working on are based on the five standard sizes of dog muzzles. Each mask will have a printed outer layer covering an inner microfiber filter capable of absorbing tiny PM 2.5-sized particles.

Fang Ling, the owner of a 2-year-old Labrador in Chengdu, the capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan province, told Sixth Tone that she worries about the impact of air pollution on her dog’s health, and that she’s excited about the prospect of air pollution masks designed specifically for dogs.

When heavy smog covered the city this past winter, Fang said she searched pet shops around the city, as well as online, for masks to protect her dog from air pollution — to no avail. Masks for humans were not an option, she explained. “If the mask is not designed specifically for dogs,” said Fang, “what’s the point of having my dog wear it?”

Editor: Denise Hruby. 

(Header image: A woman puts a face mask on her dog to protect against the harmful effects of air pollution in Beijing, Feb. 23, 2014. VCG)