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By Victoria Schade

There’s nothing cuter than a pet in a costume, but before you strap a hat on them or adorn them with a cape, think about how your furry best friend will handle it.

Determining if your pet is okay wearing a cat or dog Halloween costume requires an understanding of your pet’s body language and an eye for picking a pet costume that’s festive without being overwhelming for your pet.

Will Your Dog or Cat Be Comfortable in a Pet Costume?

Not every dog dislikes dressing up. If your dog is used to wearing clothing when the weather gets cold, it’s likely that he’ll be better able to tolerate a costume than a dog who has never worn a sweater or coat.

Small dogs tend to be dressed up more often, which means that they might be comfortable wearing a dog Halloween costume that’s more complex, like one that features a bodysuit with a tutu and crown.

Because larger dogs like Labrador Retrievers and Goldens typically don’t wear clothing, minimalist costumes, like a festive bandana or Halloween-themed collar and leash, are great choices.

A headband-style hat, like the Rubie's Costume Company Yoda ears dog costume, or hat that sits on top of the head and doesn’t interfere with your pet’s ears, is a great way to crank up the cute factor without making your dog or cat uncomfortable.

Sports jerseys or novelty T-shirts, like the Parisian Pet police dog and cat T-shirt, are fantastic, low-key dress-up options for novice Halloween pets. These simple T-shirt costumes are less likely to cause stress than more elaborate outfits and can be worn for longer periods of time, as long as the temperature permits. (Of course, pets in costumes should always be supervised.)

Most smaller dog outfits can be repurposed as costumes for cats, but remember that the more overwhelming the costume (meaning, it restricts movement or has aspects like tight straps and dangly parts), the more likely it is that your cat will resist wearing it.

Keep in mind, there’s a difference between suiting your pet up for a quick photo shoot and asking him to wear a costume for an extended period of time, like during a parade while surrounded by other costumed participants. Forcing your dog or cat to wear something that makes them nervous or causes discomfort is unfair, and in some cases, it’s actually unsafe.

Is Your Pet’s Costume Stressing Him Out?

Some signs of pet costume distress are obvious. If your dog or cat is attempting to eat the costume off of his body, rolling on the floor nonstop, rubbing up against furniture in an effort to slip out of it or running away and hiding, it is clear that you’ve made the wrong choice.

However, some symptoms of feline and canine discomfort are less obvious.

Watch your pet’s body language for indicators that the costume is too much. Your dog might put his ears back and yawn frequently while in costume, and your cat might whip her tail or drop low to the ground if she’s feeling uncomfortable. Your cat or dog might also refuse to move once the costume is on—a sure sign that your pet is either feeling stressed or part of the costume is uncomfortable for them, or both.

Merely tolerating a costume is not the same as enjoying, so be mindful of what your pet is signaling. If your dog or cat looks miserable in a costume, remove it.

How to Pick a Suitable Pet Costume

While there’s no perfect costume that works for every pet (except for his own fur suit), you’ll be more likely to pick a winner if you choose one that meets the following criteria:

  • The costume doesn’t interfere with your pet’s body. Dogs and cats rely on their senses to process the world around them, and when a costume limits that ability, it causes distress. Your dog or cat probably won’t enjoy wearing a costume that impedes the eyes, ears, mouth, tail or whiskers, or that limits their ability to walk normally.

  • The costume doesn’t make scary noises. Our pets’ hearing is much more sensitive than our own, so even though a collar made of bells might seem like an adorable option, your pet will have to deal with it in stereo, right behind her ears. Costumes that crinkle, rustle or clang are also potential stressors, so consider how your pet will process the sound element as well as the fit of the costume.

  • The costume won’t make your pet overheat. A head-to-toe costume that completely transforms your pet’s appearance might look adorable, but full-body costumes can cause your dog or cat to heat up quickly. Consider the temperature when selecting a costume, and watch your pet to make sure that’s he’s not too warm, especially if you’re spending time outside. If the forecast looks balmy, opt for a “less is more” costume, like the Pet Krewe dog and cat sailor costume, that gives your pet some breathing room.

  • The costume actually fits your pet. Some dog and cat costumes have hidden ouch-spots that pet parents miss. For example, a headpiece with a too-tight chin strap, a hat that completely covers your pet’s ears, or a costume with rear leg “pants” that impede a dog or cat’s tail are all potential stressors. When selecting a costume, make sure to survey every part of it, and watch out for areas that cause your pet’s skin to bunch up or leave a mark after it’s taken off.   

Halloween seems like the perfect time for adorable pet costume photo sessions and walks through town in an outfit, but as your pet’s advocate, you should consider how your pet will react to being dressed up.

Picking the perfect dog Halloween costume or cat costume requires an understanding of your pet’s temperament and the ability to gauge your pet’s comfort in the costume. Sometimes a simple alteration to a costume, like taking off the hat or removing ankle embellishments, can mean the difference between a grouchy goblin and a happy Halloween pet.

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