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What are the animal welfare issues with pets wearing costumes?

Many people enjoy dressing their pets in costumes, particularly for special events such as Christmas. Some animal welfare organisations include costume competitions for owners and their animals as fundraising events. This can be fun to observe and offers unique photo opportunities, but it’s important to consider what the experience is like for your pet.

Some pets will tolerate wearing a costume, and do not even appear to notice; others will find the experience unpleasant. Observe your pet’s reaction and do not dress them in costumes if they show obvious discomfort. This may appear as difficulty moving normally (including ‘freezing’), struggling to remove the costume or signs of anxiety such as panting. Alternatives to costumes that your dog might tolerate include a bandana or festive collar/harness. Avoid dressing cats up – most cats will not tolerate nor enjoy wearing any costume.

Even pets who appear calm when wearing a costume should be supervised closely at all times and should only wear their outfits for short periods. Remove the costume if your pet shows signs of distress, becomes entangled or experiences other problems. It is especially important that body costumes do not cause overheating, which can lead to heat stress, so avoid dressing your pet up during hot weather.

Wearing costumes can also impair an animal’s ability to communicate with their owners and with other animals. Animals communicate through body language, which involves using their ears, eyes, tails and body position to communicate what they are feeling. If you can’t read their behaviour due to a costume, this could make them feel anxious and cause you to miss important signals (such as their need to toilet) as well as potentially contribute to poor communication and aggressive behaviour between dogs.

When selecting a costume, avoid any that pose potential health hazards. Examples of unsafe costumes are those that:

  • cover your pet’s nose or mouth, restricting their breathing, eating or drinking
  • cover their eyes, obscuring vision
  • are too tightly fitted, causing overheating or distress
  • are too loosely fitted, causing accidents or tripping
  • prevent them from expressing normal behaviours such as walking, toileting or resting
  • have dangling, sparkling or other attachments that pets can pull off and swallow, risking an obstruction or choking
  • enclose the head
  • contain sharp items such as safety pins that could cause accidental injury

Always remember, if you are unsure whether your pet tolerates wearing a costume or not, play it safe and avoid dressing your pet up.

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Updated on June 5, 2024
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