Leave dressing up to the humans this holiday season

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As we approach the festive season, it may be tempting to dress your pet in a costume. We get it – you want to involve them and the whole family in dressing up! But it’s important to make sure the holiday season is fun for everyone in your family, and to keep in mind that what looks fun to us humans may not be fun for your pet. 

What to watch out for 

As a general rule, don’t dress your pet in a costume if it makes them uncomfortable or restricts their movement or senses in any way.  

Different pets will respond differently – they all have different personalities after all! Many pets will find wearing a costume unpleasant, while others won’t appear to notice, and some may be okay. Note that it can be difficult to read an animal’s body language, and so you may think they are fine when they are actually not. If in doubt, give it a miss and leave the dressing up for the humans. 

Obvious signs of discomfort that your pet might show when dressed up include difficulty moving normally (including ‘freezing’) and signs of anxiety such as panting, lip licking, or showing the white of their eye (also called whale eye). If the pet is trying or struggling to remove the costume, they are uncomfortable, and you should remove the clothing immediately.  

While some dogs may tolerate simple costumes, cats generally aren’t okay with being dressed up at all. So if you have a cat, think about other ways to have fun with them this holiday season.  

Protecting your pet 

If you’re going to choose a costume, you should avoid any that pose potential health hazards. In particular, avoid costumes that cover your pet’s nose or mouth (restricting breathing, eating or drinking) or their eyes (obscuring vision). 

Costumes that are too tight can cause overheating or distress, and if too loose they can cause accidents, tangling or tripping. Also watch out for costumes with dangling, sparkling or other attachments that pets can pull off and swallow, as well as sharp items like safety pins that could cause accidental injury. 

Animals communicate through body language and so it’s important to avoid costumes that prevent them from expressing normal behaviours. You want them to be able to use their ears, eyes, tails and body to communicate with you as well as with other animals. If they can’t communicate this way, it could mean that you miss an important message as well as making your pet feel anxious 

Do your own due diligence if you’re purchasing a costume from a retailer or online – there’s no guarantee that the manufacturer has considered these things, and in any case you will need to factor in the size and personality of your individual pet. 

If you are dressing your pet up, make sure that they are only wearing their costume for a short period and that you supervise them closely the whole time. Never, ever leave a pet in a costume unattended. 

What are the alternatives? 

While the safest thing is to avoid costumes altogether, if you are going to dress your pet up in some way, something small and inobtrusive like a festive bandana is probably more likely to be okay with them. Only leave it on for a short period – such as to take a photo – and then take it off.  If your pet shows any signs of discomfort then take it off immediately and don’t put it back on. You could also take a beautiful photo of your pet alongside some festive props! 

We see a lot of pictures around this time of year of pets dressed up, but remember, they didn’t choose to be like this! And in any case, we have it on good authority that pets are cute enough without being dressed up. 

The holiday season can already be a stressful time of year for our pets, with things like fireworks, unfamiliar faces and changes to routine. Let’s make sure all members of our family can enjoy the festive season and remember for our pets, that probably means treats, cuddles and play, and not a costume.

This article was originally published in Australian Community Media newspapers