Pet costumes for cats and dogs: cute or cruel?

Pet pawrents spend on average £200 a year on clothes for pets, with a fifth spending £20 a month on adorable outfits; one tenth have splashed out on designer attire. Since we’re asking if pet costumes are safe for cats and dogs, Smudge and Boo have kindly agreed to help with some super cute photos. When it comes to pet costumes for companion animals, some turn their noses up at the very idea, while others love any excuse to accessorise.

In 1833 Queen Victoria wrote in her diary about dressing Dash, her pet Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, in blue trousers and a scarlet jacket. A novelty postcard from 1900 shows a distinguished cat wearing a pinstriped suit and top hat beneath the phrase “One of the ‘smart set’,” proving cat memes have been popular for a long time! Fast-forward to modern times and we have a National Dress Up Your Pet Day (January 14th, if you’re interested.)


Is it ok to dress your cat and do dogs like wearing clothes?

You know your pet better than anyone, however in general most animal experts do advise against using clothing to create festive pets, no matter how cute the photos may be. This is because there are risks involved in dressing cats and dogs in pet costumes and it can be a source of stress for your fluffy best friend.

Signs your pet is strictly a naturist include:

  • Bolting when they see any them-sized pet costumes approaching.
  • Backing out of the costume or trying to remove it themselves.
  • Clawing, scratching, or chewing the costume.
  • Playing statues, falling to the floor, or refusing to move.
  • Growling, hissing, or whimpering.
  • Excessive licking.
  • Ears pinned and eyes rolling back or to the sides.
  • A look of absolute fury on their adorable face.

Some pets have been dressing up since they were tiny and are completely used to it, with their pawrents sharing stories of the little critters not wanting to take their dog fancy dress off long after the celebration is over. Even if your pet seems to enjoy it, there are a few things to check each time you give a costume for animals as a present to another pawrent or fancy a fitting for your furbaby. With pet costumes online, readily available on the high street, and in supermarkets, an impulse buy might never get worn if it causes discomfort.

Cat Christmas costumes

christmas kitty

Cats use their whole body to explore their world and a costume that restricts them is going to make them feel threatened – although they spend their time showing off their hunting prowess, they will feel vulnerable to attack if their vision is restricted or their whiskers are squashed. Dangling elf arms or fairy headwear could cause them to think they are being constantly chased and a heavy pet costume might feel like they’ve already been caught. In a multi-cat household, a kitted-out kitty could confuse its naked brothers and sisters who might react to her with aggression and hostility.

Cats spend up to half of their time happily grooming themselves. They really do enjoy it and when they’re feeling particularly generous they might lick their pawrent’s hair or hands too as a special treat. If a pet costume for cats prevents them from this natural behaviour, it can cause them stress. Grooming each other helps cats to bond, so a costume that covers her scent and fur might confuse her kitty companions.

Dog fancy dress

Dogs need to be able to eat comfortably, move around as normal, and bark their innermost thoughts. If your puppy isn’t used to wearing costumes around people or other animals the experience could affect their socialisation. It’s best to avoid introducing your pup to dressing up at the same time as something else which they might find overwhelming, like ten tipsy family members flashing camera phones in their faces at their first visit.

They may be very tempted to chow down on a tasty looking button or bow on their costume and excessive licking could cause them to swallow string, ribbons, or any Velcro holding it together. Just like a child, flimsily attached accessories on pet costumes for dogs can be a choking hazard.

Tails, temperatures and sensitive skin

Cats and dogs use their tails for balance and to communicate how they’re feeling to those around them. If a pet costume constricts their tail it could cause them to misjudge a jump, lose their balance, and fall. Always let their tails fly free to prevent accidents and frustration from not being able to express their emotions properly.

It’s also important to make sure your fluffy friend doesn’t get too hot. Even if they want to wear it forever, if it covers their body be sure to only let them wear it for short intervals. If you’ve noticed them exerting themselves by running up and down the hallway or chasing squirrels in the garden with the costume on, take it off for a bit to ensure they can properly cool down with some fresh air. Keep an eye out for panting or lethargy and as always, ensure there’s lots of clean, accessible drinking water available.

Just like cats and dogs have sensitive tummies that benefit from a gut-friendly, high-quality hypoallergenic diet, their skin can react to materials that rub or irritate them. A pet costume they’ve been fine wearing before can suddenly cause skin flare ups so be sure to keep an eye out for redness.

Small and less noticeable accessories

If your cat or dog is used to wearing a collar, they might enjoy swapping this for a dashing bowtie or bandana, as seen on Smudge herehere, and here… 

costume-free fluffy photoshoots

If your furball made it clear they’d rather go naked than wear clothes and you have the chewed-up pet costumes or cat-scratch scars to prove it, there are still ways to get that perfect seasonal photo for Instagram or your holiday cards. You can try using props or backdrops to create the atmosphere you want, like in this photo of Smudge looking adorable in front of our tree. Lure your pet to where you want them to be with a handful of Scrumbles or other healthy treat and snap away! You want to make sure you aren’t using any props that could be toxic, so avoid using real plants, chocolate decorations, or leaving them unsupervised where they could get tangled in tinsel, chew through some fairy lights, or swallow something they shouldn’t.

If that doesn’t work and your pet runs and hides whenever you try to get them onset, why not try out some free photo editing apps on your phone or computer? This way you can go all out with costumes, backdrops, and accessories – even down to adding polished painted claws. Be sure to get your canine or kitty’s approval and check they’re ready for Instagram fame before you post their pictures!

Practical clothes for the cold

cold pup

As winter really begins, pet pawrents can worry about their fluffy loved one getting cold in the fureezing weather. Our kitty Boo loves to snuggle up in soft blankets when the mercury plummets, but what if you and your pet will be out in the elements or exposed to cold temperatures for a long time? Whether your cat or dog needs a jumper or jacket depends on what type of fur it has.

Double coated dogs have two layers of fur: short, woolly hairs make up the undercoat, with longer hairs forming the guard layer on top. If your pooch’s shedding is the stuff of hair-raising legends, it’s likely you’ve got a double coated dog. These canines are designed to do well in cold weather and are unlikely to need any extra help keeping warm. Double coated dog breeds include Alaskan Huskies, Golden Retrievers, Shibu Inus, Labradors, Miniature Schnauzers, and Pomeranians.

Single coated dogs don’t have that dense bottom layer and just have a single top layer of fur. Their hair has a longer growth cycle so appears to shed less. These pooches are less protected from the elements, so they need additional layers when the temperature drops. Single coated dog breeds include Chihuahuas, Poodles, Maltese, Greyhounds, Whippets, and Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers.   

As well as considering coat type, a jacket or jumper is recommended if your canine is:

  • Very small like a toy terrier.
  • Slender like a Whippet.
  • Recovering from an injury or illness.
  • A playful puppy or elderly daring dog.
  • Going to be out in temperatures below freezing.
  • Likely to spend long periods of time in the cold.

Trust cats to try and one-up dogs: kitties can be single, double, or triple coated, including Turkish Angoras, Persians, and Siberians respectively. But should cats wear clothes in winter? Vets usually don’t recommend putting any cats in clothing to keep warm unless they have been shaved for health or grooming purposes or if they are permanently hairless like the iconic Sphynx. Even then, that’s only if you’ll be in particularly c-c-c-cold conditions, and your hair-free feline might still refuse to wear it. In this case, nice warm spots in front of radiators and plenty of dry, clean blankets will be fine.

If the clothing is only for outdoor use, put it on your pet just before you go out and take it off once you return, especially if it’s got wet or covered in snow.

Choosing a jacket for cats and dogs

If your playful puppy, daring dog, curious kitten, or cool cat is likely to get wet in their jacket from rain and snow or jumping in deliciously tempting puddles (whether you approve of that or not) then it’s best to buy one with a waterproof top layer and avoid wool. Choose washable clothing for ease and to avoid expensive dry-cleaning costs. Think about how you’ll put a jacket or jumper on your pet; if your pet has arthritis or is elderly, you’ll want to make sure it can slip on with ease. Measure your pet with a tape measure and check the manufacturers’ sizing guides so you get that snug and comfortable fit just right. Too tight can restrict movement, but too loose could cause your pet to get twisted up like a pretzel, with legs caught in neck and arm holes.

Canines and cats wearing pet costumes for charities

Kitties and pooches who love to dress up have been using their fashion forward way of thinking to benefit charities. Battersea Cats and Dogs Home host its Collars & Coats Gala annually with all proceeds going towards their good work. Another fashion show, held by Strutz for the first time this year, supported charities including Dogs Trust. If pets plus catwalks sounds like a dream, check the events pages of animal charities and your local newspaper to see what’s happening near you and how to get involved.

Final thought: are pet costumes cruel or cool?

Dressing up cats and dogs in pet costumes can be quite a divisive topic, with some people calling it cruel while others swear their pets like wearing clothes. Whatever you decide, we know you’ll always have the best interest of your pet at heart and will let them take the lead.

Remember the acronym PET when choosing clothes for companion animals and check: can they Play, Eat, and Toilet normally when wearing it?

If you and your furbaby find that trying out pet costumes is something they enjoy, always supervise them when they are wearing anything other than the fluffy coat they were born in.

What do you think about pet costumes? Is your dog a dedicated devotee to dress-up or do you have the cat scratch scars to prove your kitty can't be tempted to try on a party hat? Let us know and sign up to our newsletter to keep in the loop on all things pet!


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