People have been dressing up their pets throughout history, but the practice has certainly become more commonplace over the past few decades. It’s rare now to go into a pet store and not see an adorable little costume for your pooch (or sometimes other furry friends), and there are entire lines of pet clothes and accessories now in existence. But should you really be dressing up your pet? Let’s take a look at the facts:
It’s not quite clear exactly how far back in time humans have been dressing up their pets, but some of the earliest decorative pet collars have been found in the tombs of ancient Egyptians. Going forward from there, animal garb has become increasingly elaborate. Photographic evidence of pets in full costumes emerged in the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until the later decades of the 20th century that pet costumes really started to become their own market. Now in the 21st century that market has continued to grow.
In 2013, consumers in the United States were reported to have spent around $330 million on Halloween pet costumes. As the owner of a pet boutique in Denver told the Denver Post that year, “dogs are the new kids”. Animal fashion shows are also not unheard of. In addition to traditional holidays like Christmas and Halloween where many pet owners celebrate by putting Fido in a fun Santa sweater or a winged bumblee suit, January 14th is now officially National Dress Up Your Pet Day.
But the spike in popularity has also seen a rise in controversy. In 2014, late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel prepared a segment in which he pleaded with pet owners to stop dressing up their dogs and cats in Christmas costumes. And in 2016, New York Magazine published an article in its “Rants” section titled “Dog Halloween Costumes Should be Illegal”. There are no current laws prohibiting it, but various groups have tried pushing for legislation on the matter. One of the more publicized instances was actually in the United Kingdom, where the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has told pet owners that there may be legal grounds to prosecute them if they choose to put costumes on their animals.
Dressing up a pet is often a very heated subject among animal lovers. Nevertheless, collars are generally accepted among even those who disagree with actual costumes and other accessories (like hats). One argument here is that collars can serve a practical purpose (for identification) and do not cover much of a pet’s body. Some local laws actually require dogs and/or cats to wear tags. Likewise, some also argue that pet clothing can itself serve a practical purpose. Many put sweaters and other specially designed outwear on their dogs when they are going to be spending time outside in cold weather. Others say dressing a pet up promotes bonding and can attract more attention for the animal. But on the other side of the picket line, people argue that dressing up a pet is unnatural and can promote feelings of confusion and embarrassment, not to mention discomfort.
What the Experts Have to Say
The general consensus among those in the veterinary world appears to be that while costumes can indeed inflict unnecessary discomfort or other harm on pets, it really just depends on the pet. Like humans, animals are all different and come with different preferences and personalities. Therefore, it is wise to see how an individual pet reacts to being dressed up and act accordingly.
If the animal doesn’t seem to mind the costume and it does stay on for a bit, it is reccomended that owners stay with their pets throughout the dress up session to make sure that they do not get tangled up or otherwise harmed as a result. Animal experts are also quick to point out that the vast majority of dogs and cats already come with their own fur coats and therefore do not actually need sweaters and other clothing to keep them warm.
So is it actually bad to dress up your pet? This may be a gray area, and your own opinion is likely going to depend on which outside opinions you hold in higher esteem. Nevertheless, it may be a good idea to listen to the experts on this one. Pay attention to how your pet responds to wearing a costume or accessory. Pay very close attention, because pets (particularly dogs) who have close bonds with their owners will often act complacent in an unpleasant situation just to try and please them.
If your pet is moving slower than usual, scratching occasionally or simply looks anxious, it may be best to just take the costume off. Likewise, pets who are not moving at all, whining or scratching consistently are most definitely trying to tell you that they would like the costume taken off. No need to scold them here– just take it off. After all, is quality time with your pet really quality time if only one of you is having fun? On the other hand, if your pet actually seems excited while you are putting on their costume (and always do so gently) and behaves normally or even happily while wearing it, then there may not be any harm at all in leaving it on them for a little while.