7 ways to ethically dress your pet on #DressUpYourPetDay

7 ways to ethically dress your pet on #DressUpYourPetDay

A blog by Amy Ockelford, our dedicated press officer and dog mum to Storm.

For many pet owners, dressing up their pets is all a bit of fun; a light-hearted way for us to show our affection and to share photos with other animal lovers.

However, it's really important to stop and think about how dressing up our pets makes them feel and if they're enjoying the experience as much as we are. Some pets may not mind being dressed up - but others may find the process worrying and scary. Sadly, owners may not always be aware of the signs that their pet isn't happy.

Should you dress up your pet?

Signs your pet is unhappy about being dressed up © RSPCASome items of pet clothing have clear benefits, for example, keeping your dog warm in cold weather or aiding visibility at night. When my dog, Sammy, entered his twilight years and started to suffer from arthritis, I bought him a very fetching purple coat to keep him warm and to help his aching joints.

During the winter months, when we would be walking in the dark, he'd wear his glowing collar which made it look like we were off to a rave! And when my colleague, Emily's cat Indy had surgery and wouldn't leave the wound alone, she was wrapped up in a fleece onesie to stop her from pulling out her stitches.

When making decisions about your pet's clothing, their happiness should always be the top priority. Nobody wants to do anything that could make their pet unhappy - but many owners may not be aware that wearing clothing or the process of having clothing put on them can be stressful for some pets. Signs that your pet is feeling anxious and scared can be very subtle or covered by the clothing and so may be easy to miss.

7 ways to ethically dress your pet

To ensure that your pet is happy when wearing clothing, we've pulled together the following advice for owners:

  1. Make sure your pet can still behave normally, for example, can they still go to the toilet, see, hear, eat, drink, run around and breathe properly?
  2. Introduce your pet to the clothing gradually and for short periods. Initially, you can give them treats at each stage so that it becomes something your pet feels good about.
  3. Take care to ensure your pet won't overheat. This is particularly important during the summer months and for dogs who may have health problems, are overweight, or have flat faces as they can have issues which are exacerbated by heat.
  4. Become familiar with the signs your pet uses when they're happy so you can check that the clothing isn't making your pet uncomfortable, worried or anxious. We have lots of guidance to help us to better understand how our dogs, cats and rabbits are feeling. 
  5. Make sure your pet can still use their body to tell us, and other animals, how they're feeling. Ears and tails are especially important, as are faces.
  6. Check your pet can't hurt themselves, for example, avoid anything that they could become trapped in (cats, in particular, can suffer terrible injuries if their collars become caught. We always recommend using quick-release collars!).
  7. Always supervise your pet while they're in their clothing.

Clothing should benefit your pet (not cause them stress)

Dog in winter coat © RSPCAWhile some items of clothing and accessories have clear functions, such as keeping our pets warm or protected from injury; a lot of the outfits and clothes that are available to buy are purely for novelty value.

A quick online search brings up designer jumpers and sports tracksuits, tweed hats and tuxedos, as well as fancy dress options galore. You could dress your pup up as a hot dog or you could transform your cat into a dinosaur.

Most owners who choose to dress up pets do so with affection and a desire to have fun with their pets. However, this could lead to a change in the way owners view animals, forgetting that they have different ways of enjoying themselves to us. It could even mean that we take them less seriously.

Although humans may love to dress up, it's not our pet's first choice for spending quality time with us. They have their own emotions, feelings and needs and it's really important that we respect that.

Pets have their own emotions and needs

Does your dog look happy dressed up © RSPCADressing up pets can blur the lines between the pet being an animal and being human. Anthropomorphism - which includes giving human emotions to animals - can have real benefits because it means that owners recognise that their pets have feelings and needs that must be cared for. Owners think of their pets as important, irreplaceable companions, rather than simply as property.

In many ways, dressing pets is often a sign of how much we think of our pets, seeing them as members of our families. But it's important that we don't see them as 'mini humans' but instead, animals whose abilities and needs are different to ours but valued just as much.

Play with your pets in a way they'll love

Instead of reaching for the dressing up box, why not get your pet involved with a new squeaky toy, spend some time teaching them a new trick or even bake them a treat?

We all want our pets to feel part of the family. However, it would be better for our pets if we found other pet-friendly ways to bond with our furry friends other than through potentially harmful fancy dress play. Instead, let's choose ways that prioritise animal welfare so that the fun can be enjoyed by person and pet alike!

Find out more about caring for your pets.

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