Next time you see a cat in a costume at Halloween or at Christmas, don’t look at the costume but into the cat’s eyes. What do you see?
There is very little doubt that cats in costumes are cute. But whilst we might enjoy a cat dressed as a bat or a tutu touting Tonkinese, what we should 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 a blanket “No” to funny or cute pet costumes. So let’s look at the pros and cons, and assess if your cat is that rare soul, a cat that likes dressing up and being the centre of attention.
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. Put a cat in a costume and it’s liable to cover her ears (muffling her hearing), compress her whiskers (interfering with her sense of touch), obscure her vision, or cover her in an alien smell.
Let’s consider her sense of smell. Cats communicate by scent so to have her coat covered in something that smells of a shop or factory is equivalent to us being dressed in musty clothing that stayed damp for too long. Not nice! At best she’ll tolerate it, but you can put money on her spending a lot of time washing afterwards.
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.
What about a cat who wants to make a hasty exit with a pair of bat or angel wings attached to his 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.
Indeed, wearing something strange may trigger your cat’s instinct to flee and 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.
Plus, many cats don’t like being the centre of attention. Just think 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.
And 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.
OK so not all cats are the same. Maybe you have a cat that thrives on attention and seem to enjoy the occasional costume. Or perhaps you’re planning a minimalist costume and want to test the waters. How should you go about dressing up your cat?
- Feline Fit: 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 consider that wearing a costume isn’t your cat’s idea of a good time.
- Gradual Introduction: 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 her to wear it. Consider sleeping with the costume so it gets your smell on it, and is therefore less threatening. Then show it to her and reward any inquisitive approaches. Before a meal (when she’s hungry) pop it on her for a few seconds and then put her food down as a reward. Gradually increase the amount of time she wears it.
What NOT to Do
Never put a costume on an outdoor cat or leave a cat in a costume unattended.
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 Hallowe’en dress-up!
Seriously though, please use common sense when it comes to costumes for your cat and 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?