With the explosion of social media over the past decade, most of us by now have seen countless images of animals dressed up as people and funny objects. Whether it’s cats with witches’ hats at Halloween or dogs in Santa suits at Christmas, it seems that everyone is waiting for the next opportunity to put their pet in drag. Nobody could deny that there are some unbelievably cute and funny images out there, but how much fun is it – and more importantly - how safe is it for our pets?


How would you like it?

Most of us have been asked to don a silly suit of some description for a fete, children’s party, or even for work, and our reaction is often; “you want me to wear that hot and uncomfortable thing!” It’s probably no different for our pets, except that they don’t know what it is or why they’re expected to wear it, and they’re often given no choice. No matter how easy-going and compliant our pets are, they don’t understand why they’re wearing costumes and even if they don’t object, it doesn’t mean that they can see the joke.


Pets don’t always see the world as we do

As pet owners we sometimes are inclined to anthropomorphise – to give human characteristics to our animals. We assume that our pets feel similarly to us and that they’re experiencing the same emotions. It can be an easily made mistake and we don’t do it through carelessness, but in reality our pets may be feeling differently about a situation than we do. Something that’s light-hearted and joyous for us isn’t necessary going to be perceived the same way by our pets and neither will they react to it the same way.


Photographing our pets in a natural state, such as sitting with us while we celebrate or even in our laps is usually fine, but problems can arise when animals are dressed up and put in unnatural scenarios. People aren’t trying to make their pets feel uncomfortable, but there are some ways to include pets in the fun that are safer, less invasive, and more comfortable for them than others.

What’s never okay

There are some things that you should never allow your pet to wear and whilst this list is far from exhaustive, following are some guidelines for dress-ups.


  • Makeup – Putting makeup on animals can make them ill and potentially be lethal. Animals suffer from allergies, just as we do, and we can’t know whether the ingredients in makeup will be tolerated by our pets. There’s high likelihood of makeup being ingested, as animals instinctively try to lick things off.  The other issue is removal, as soaps and makeup-removers may contain detergents that can cause eye irritations and stomach problems. A pug with bright red lips and blue eyeshadow may sound like a funny idea, but in fact it’s just a dangerous one.


  • Restricting movement – This one shouldn’t need much explanation… How would you like to be put in a straitjacket? Anything that restricts an animal’s movement or has the potential to interfere with their flight-or-flight response should be avoided. Whilst animals might try to resist having anything put on them – including normal things such as collars – they should never have their movement restricted by a costume. Even if the costume isn’t restrictive when worn correctly, consideration should be given to whether entanglement can occur if it moves or they attempt to get out of it.


  • Overheating – Animals’ fur is a natural form of temperature regulation - even in summer - and adding an additional layer can interfere with body temperature. It might be fine to put a sassy vest on your dog on a cold winter’s day but be careful not to add to your pet’s discomfort when they’re already feeling the heat. Costumes - especially those made from synthetic fibres - can cut off airflow and circulation, and cause pets to overheat quickly.


  • Sharp bits, rough edges and ties - Anything on a costume that could injure an animal while wearing it or trying to remove it, must be avoided. Something on the outside of a costume can easily end up on the inside, and anything that’s sharp could cause injury to eyes, mouths, delicate ears and skin anywhere on the body, as well as present a choking risk. Animals aren’t necessary going to wear the costume as intended, therefore be wary of anything on it that could cause injury. Ties, straps and ropes can be hazardous also and can create a strangulation risk.


What’s sometimes okay

There is nothing that can necessarily be declared to be 100% safe and owners need to use their judgement when dressing up their pets. It can be sometimes be difficult reading the body language of animals and knowing when they are distressed, particularly when they’re camouflaged in a costume. The safest approach is, when in doubt, don’t…


Signs of distress

Some of the signs to watch out for in dogs are “whale eyes” – which is when the whites in the far corner of the eyes show - and tails tucked between legs. Other signs of stress include licking of lips, panting, yawning, or remaining “frozen” still. In cats, keep an eye our for a rapidly flicking tail, excessive grooming, aggressive behaviour, or vocalising. Be conscious of the comfort and dignity of your pet always, and as soon as there are signs that they’re distressed then it’s time to remove the costume whether you’ve got your cute picture or not.


Reacting responsibly

There are many things that we used to accept as okay, that as a more mature and socially responsible society we now reject as not okay, and jokes are a good example. The same principles should apply with animals. If you see something on social media that’s intended to be funny but appears to be an animal who could actually be distressed, think twice about “liking” or sharing it. No animal should be made uncomfortable or put in danger for the sake of our entertainment.


Let common-sense prevail

Of course, some animals don’t mind being dressed up and dogs will usually be more comfortable with it than cats, but don’t take anything for granted. Hats, bandannas and glasses are usually less intrusive and can make for a fun photo (as a rule, animals should never have their heads completely covered), but be guided by your pet’s response and don’t force them into anything. Limit the amount of time they’re in costume, remove the props as soon as the event / photo has finished, and don’t take your eye off them for a minute while they’re dressed up.


Remember that our pets love and want to please us, which means that they might comply with our wishes and do something that they really don’t want to. Use your common sense and give them a break when they’re really not into dress-ups, and instead save the looks for yourself and your kids. If you need further advice, please don’t hesitate to contact any of the Vets4Pets hospitals.