People have a variety of reasons why they dress their pet up in clothes. Some put a coat or sweater on their dog in the winter because he gets too cold without one. Others just think their pet looks cute in a costume. Some pets seem to enjoy all the attention they get when wearing clothes; there’s even a National Dress Up Your Pet Day. But from your pet’s point of view, is he really that excited about wearing clothes? There are things to consider when choosing clothing for dogs and cats, and signals your pet sends that will tell you if he’s comfortable or stressed out in his new getup. Dressing your pet in clothes can change his behavior.
I have a windproof/waterproof coat for each of my dogs to wear during heavy, wet snowfalls and when the temperature is below zero. Winter winds can be wicked where I live, and my dogs appreciate their coats. All except Keikei, my Border Collie mix. She is more of a hat and sunglasses kind of gal, and doesn’t like wearing a coat no matter how cold or snowy it is outside. Keikei is a high energy canine and can’t wait to get outside, but with her coat on she has trouble moving around and prefers to act like a statue. Her personality changes, and I know she feels uncomfortable and confined wearing a coat, so I don’t put it on her.
It can be hard to find pet clothes that actually fit your dog or cat comfortably. Clothes are mass produced in different sizes, but the size can vary depending on the manufacturer. If a piece of clothing fits too snug it can restrict movement, and if it’s too loose it can cause a dog or cat to get their leg tangled up in the material or get a leg pushed through the neck of whatever he’s wearing. A cute hoodie may be adorable, but it can interfere with his vision and hearing if it keeps falling down over his eyes and ears. Custom-made coats, sweaters or costumes are less restricting and more comfortable for your pet because the item is made to fit an individual dog or cat.
Clothes can hide your dog’s body language and you are likely to miss signals he displays when meeting another dog at the park or during a walk. When his ears are covered up with a hood or hat, you can’t see signals he sends that lets you know he’s concerned, upset or fearful of an approaching dog or person. More importantly, the other dog can have a hard time reading him as well.
There are signs to watch for that say your pet is comfortable or at least will tolerate wearing clothes. As long as your dog is wagging his tail, not struggling to get away, and moves around comfortably and not restricted in his movements, he’s OK. Your cat is OK if she isn’t giving you the “Crazy Human” stare and stays relaxed.
Dogs and cats that don’t want to have anything to do with clothing have ways of expressing their displeasure. If your pet dashes out of the room and hides the minute he sees a piece of clothing, that’s a good clue you might as well forget dressing him up. Clear signals from dogs include lowering his head, crouching, rolling on his back, lip licking (which is a sign of anxiety), refusing to look at you, attempting to get the clothes off, refusing to move with clothes on, or looking totally unhappy. If your dog does get cold on your daily walks but doesn’t like to wear a coat, try offering a few CANIDAE treats as an incentive.
Your cat will tell you in no uncertain terms how unhappy she is wearing clothes. She’s not OK if she’s loudly meowing, growling, trying to bite you or kick your hand with her back legs while you’re trying to put clothing on her, goes limp like a rag doll, falls over on her side and refuses to budge, or claws and bites at her clothes in an attempt to get them off.
Never leave clothing on your pet when he’s unsupervised. Clothes can be a choking hazard if it becomes caught. Monitor your dog or cat to make sure he doesn’t become overheated. A coat, sweater or costume shouldn’t interfere with the movement of your pet’s tail, vision, hearing or when doing his business.
Some dogs and cats enjoy wearing clothes, but not all do. It’s important to be respectful and considerate of your pet’s desire to wear clothes – or not.
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