Is it OK to dress your pet in a Christmas jumper?
The Christmas jumper has seen a surge in popularity amongst humans in recent years, but is it really appropriate to dress your dog or cat up too? Whilst it is clear that some items of pet clothing are very useful in keeping our pets warm and dry - or making them more visible in the dark, the RSPCA has expressed some concern about whether dressing pets up in human-style clothing may be cruel.
When making a decision about whether to dress your pet, you should prioritise their happiness and wellbeing - and quite often, it depends on the pet. Some animals find wearing any sort of clothing extremely upsetting and stressful and the fact that they are feeling anxious or annoyed can often be difficult to spot, or even obscured by their outfit, so it is important to tune in and make sure that they are happy with what you are doing.
The RSPCA offers the following advice for pet owners to help them ensure that your pet is dressed ethically – i.e. that your pet is happy and comfortable.
Seven ways to ensure that you are dressing your pet ethically
- Make sure that your pet can move naturally. The clothing should not restrict their movement. Can they still see, hear eat, drink, run, breathe and go to the toilet easily?
- Make a gradual introduction to the clothing and let them wear it for short periods. Give them treats to make sure that they are happy about the experience. If they continue to exhibit distress, remove the outfit and don't put it back on.
- Make sure they’re not going to get too hot. Whilst it can be good to get an outdoor coat for a thin-coated dog such as a whippet, if they are wearing clothes indoors and your home is warm, they may overheat very quickly. This could be a particular problem with a Christmas jumper so think carefully about where they are going to be wearing it, for how long and whether that is appropriate. Overweight dogs and dogs with flat faces have a tendency to overheat more quickly too.
- Check out your pet’s body language to ensure that they are really OK with wearing pet clothing. If your dog is drooping, licking or has their tail tucked between their legs, then they may be sad, anxious or simply uncomfortable.
- Sometimes it can be hard to read your pet's body language if they are obscured by clothes. Make sure you can see their ears, tail and face so you can check out what’s going on.
- Check that your pet can't hurt themselves. Avoid anything they can get trapped in – or that might snag on something and cause an injury.
- Stay with your pet and supervise them if they are wearing pet clothing.
Clothing should benefit your pet as well as you
Obviously many items of pet clothing are clearly functional but a Christmas jumper may just be for the look. Ask yourself why you want to dress your pet. Are they really enjoying themselves? Some Christmas jumpers could help your pet to stay warm and comfortable, some may not so you will have to use your judgement to decide whether it is appropriate for you.
Most owners who choose to dress up their pets do so with affection and the desire to have fun with their pets. But this could lead to a change in the way that you view or treat your dog or cat. Pets generally prefer to experience different ways of enjoying themselves than we do. Your pet’s idea of quality time may be substantially different to yours and it is important that you remember that they have their own emotions, feelings and needs and you have to respect them. In some ways, dressing your pet up could be a sign of how much you love them as a member of your family. But it's important that you don't see them as 'mini humans.' They are still animals, whose abilities and needs are different to ours but valued just as much.
So, is it appropriate to dress your pet up in a Christmas jumper this year?
We say yes - as long as they are happy with the idea, they are comfortable and you have met the criteria for dressing them ethically, according to the RSPCA guidelines. It depends on the pet and the jumper too.
Whatever happens, make sure you make some time this Christmas to spend some time doing something that you and your pet will both enjoy doing. Such as playing with some toys, going for a wintery walk or snuggling up on the sofa together to watch a Christmas movie. Christmas jumper optional!