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People often ask, is it okay to dress your cat in a costume at Halloween or at Christmas? To find the answer, we suggest you look away from the costume and into the cat’s eyes. What do you see?
Cats dressed in costumes for special occasions are cute. But whilst we might enjoy a cat dressed as a bat or a tutu touting Tonkinese, what need to as ask is: “How does the cat feel?”
As a responsible cat guardian it’s important to always put your cat’s welfare first. No one wants to be a party pooper and say an outright “NO” to funny or cute pet costumes. So let’s look at the pros and cons, and assess if your cat is that rare kitty, who likes dressing up and being the centre of attention.
Why Costumes Can Be Stressful For Cats
To understand why most cats prefer their own coat to a costume, let’s consider some basic cat behaviour.
For a start, cats depend on their sense of vision, smell, touch, and hearing. When you dress a cat in a costume it’s likely to do the following:
- cover the ears (muffling hearing)
- compress the whiskers (interfering with sense of touch)
- obscure vision
- cover her in an alien smell.
Sense of smell in cats
Cats communicate by scent so when their coat covered in something that smells of a shop or factory it is like us being dressed in musty clothing that stayed damp for too long. Not nice! At best your cat will tolerate it, but you can put money on the cat spending a lot of time washing afterwards.
Cat behaviour in multi-cat households
In addition, a cat that smells strange or looks different is going to be shunned or attacked by other cats in the house. This is also why some cats get picked on when they return from a vet visit. In a multi-cat household a cat in a costume can upset a finely balanced hierarchy. A dressed-up cat may lash out in fear or anger, or other cats in the house may respond aggressively, leaving the cat in costume at a distinct disadvantage if their outfit impairs their hearing or their ability to run away.
Ability to run and hide
What about a cat who wants to make a hasty exit with a pair of bat or angel wings attached to its shoulders? An anxious cat is liable to flee, but a costume is going to impede that getaway which could lead to greater risk of injury. Wearing something strange may trigger your cat’s instinct to run away from whatever it is that’s attacking her. . . only the costume goes with her which leaves her even more stressed and fearful. Don’t forget, cats aren’t used to wearing clothes and the feel of fabric against the fur (and it’s often synthetic fabrics that are prone to static) may not be welcome.
Being the centre of attention
Many cats just don’t like being the centre of attention. Think about how being stared at is a threat or challenge to fight in cat language. Wearing a costume that singles them out is going to be a major cause of distress especially for a less than confident cat.
Last but not least in this litany of dress-up problems is the risk of your cat chewing part of the costume and either choking, or swallowing a button for example, that blocks the bowel and requires emergency surgery. Is dressing up your cat, really worth the risk?
Basic Rules For Dressing Your Cat in a Costume
Not all cats are the same. Maybe you have a cat that thrives on attention and seem to enjoy the occasional costume, like our sophisticated feline friend Coco the Couture Cat. Or perhaps you’re planning a minimalist costume and want to test the waters. How should you go about dressing up your cat?
The perfect costume must fit properly and not get in the way of ears, eyes, or whiskers, neither should it impede that cat’s ability to walk, sit, lie, or jump. (Hmmm, sounds an awful lot like a cat’s fur coat, doesn’t it?)
Watch for stress
Be alert for signs your cat is stressed by the whole debacle. This includes the cat hissing and spitting or showing signs of aggression, altered behaviour such as hiding more or running away, litter box accidents, or decreased appetite. If you see any of these behavioural signs, consider that wearing a costume isn’t your cat’s idea of a good time.
In the same way you’d train a cat to accept a harness, be sure to let your cat become familiar with the costume before forcing them to wear it. Consider sleeping with the costume yourself, so it gets your smell on it, and is therefore less threatening. Then show the dress up costume to your cat and reward any inquisitive approaches. Before a meal (when the cat’s hungry) pop the costume on for a few seconds and then put food down as a reward. Gradually increase the amount of time the cat wears the costume, until they are completely comfortable.
What Not To Do When Dressing Your Cat in a Costume
Never put a costume on an outdoor cat or leave a cat in a costume unattended. It’s simply, not safe.
Never force your cat into a costume – it’s likely you’ll get bitten or scratched. Although, on the positive side, at least you won’t need fake blood for your own Halloween costume!
Seriously though, please use common sense when it comes to dressing your cat in a costume. If you are inclined to play dress-ups please ensure that your cat’s health, safety and comfort comes first.
Does your cat ever wear a costume? What do you think about dressing cats in costumes for special occasions such as Halloween or Christmas — is it a good or bad idea?
Three Chatty Cats says
Great tips and post. I would never dare try to put to of our cats in costumes. Sophie is a maybe, if she’s in the right mood.
Wonderful post and it all comes down to common sense like your said! We know that Callie the Cat doesn’t like costumes so we doing even try putting one on her!
Elizabeth Keene says
OK, I confess that I have put various “accessories” on my cats (not all of them, though, just the couple who are oblivious (mostly). Maddox wears things on his head without any incident and I can do neck wear. The full-body shark outfit (for Maddox) did not go over very well, though. He was afraid to move and just fell over on his side like a blob. I took it off and apologized. Seriously, though (as I am a cat nut and can recognize stress signs), I hate seeing kitties (and dogs, too) dressed up and clearly uncomfortable.
Jana Rade says
The only things we ever put on our dogs are things they need. I still believe that if one wants to play dress-up, they should get a Barbie. Or a kid 😉
Great post guys, and we often see pictures of kitties in clothes that look terrified/stressed/hate it! I know some kitties don’t mind dress-up and occasionally we will don a hat for like 10 seconds, but fur those that peeps that insist on dressing cats like dolls all the time…. hmmmmmmm…. not ok.
Great tips! Cats in costumes are so cute, it’s even cuter when they’ve been gradually trained to enjoy spending time dressed up.
Tenacious Little Terrier says
I think it really depends on the pet. Mr. N loves clothes and he’s very used to wearing them so costumes don’t bother him at all.
Beth (@dailydogtag) says
My cat would probably hate to wear a costume, but I’ve never tried to have him wear one. I think a lot of pets enjoy wearing costumes (or the treats and positive attention that comes with it.) I love seeing pets wear safe and comfortable costumes, as long as the pet looks happy.
I’ve never tried to dress a cat in a costume, but I’d imagine that the majority of them would not like it. However, like you said, each cat is different.
Great advice! We had a cat (Graphite) who loved dressing up, but he was definitely an exception. We opt for the Photoshop costumes now … easier on everyone involved. 🙂
Heartprints Pets (@HeartprintsPets) says
This is excellent advice. I hadn’t thought of the scent of the costume affecting them before. That’s an excellent point!
christycaplan (@christycaplan) says
Yes- I REALLY wanted to dress up our doxies but the look they gave us is so pathetic and I know they don’t like it so we skipped it this year and are sticking to bandannas. Great tips!
I think cat costumes are adorable as long as the cats are comfortable in them. There are some cats that don’t mind wearing clothes at all! I have never dressed my cats up. As cute as it is, I don’t really have enough people over to my home to justify the expense. There’s no reason to put the cats (or my wallet) through it just to put a couple of photos on Facebook.
Cathy Armato says
Good advice. My cat never liked costumes or even a collar! For the first time I’d start with something simple like fun holiday neck ware before trying full costumes. Some cats do like costumes but probably not too many.
Ruth Epstein says
I think that it depends on the cat and should not be forced to wear a costume, Layla hates costumes so have stopped pushing her to wear one 🙂
Sweet Purrfections says
I tried to put a Halloween shirt on Brulee a couple of years ago and she was one who fled and hid. I haven’t tried to do it since.
The Daily Pip says
Rosie would never stand for us dressing her up. Very interesting about the scent issue – I had never thought about that, but of course, having their fur covered up would be stressful.
Ruby, our dog, doesn’t mind a costume as long as it is not too restrictive. We are very careful and if she shows any signs of stress, we take it off.
The Swiss Cats says
We don’t wear costumes, but we’re not against cats wearing costumes. As long as the cat is respected and really enjoys being dressed from time to time, that’s fine. Purrs
There’s no denying how cute they look, but you’re so right in talking about how they’re feeling about it. You couldn’t come within 50 feet of my cats with a costume.
Sherri Telenko says
I think only for pictures then take the costume off. None of my cats have ever tolerated this. A hat (hats for cats!) maybe for three minutes but that’s it.
I’m the rare kitty who actually enjoys wearing things and being the center of attention! Plus, all the treats I get for being so good about it. Sparkle really hated it and rarely ever had to wear a costume. I wound up with, like, six costumes this year!
Lola The Rescued Cat says
We don’t like costumes, and Mommy respects this. She doesn’t make us try them on anymore. We’re very happy about that!