I have a confession

Yes, I need to confess.  I dread this time of year on social media.

I run a reasonably sized cat page on Instagram (@lillmanlulu_luigi_and_co) as well as a cat shelter photography page which means the majority of my time spent on social media is cat related. Any moment now, my newsfeed will slowly but steadily start filling up with posts of dressed up cats. Each year, by the time Halloween comes round, my heart will sink to the depths of despair.

This year however, I’ve decided to deal with the problem head on.

Not only will I quietly unfollow/unfriend anyone who posts dressed up cats, I will stick my neck out and try to explain my motivations for why I will take these drastic measures.

If it changes the mind of one “cat dresser “ then it’s been worth it.

Indulge me for just one minute whilst I use a frying pan analogy.

When someone hits you on the head with a frying pan, you will very likely associate that frying pan with an incredibly painful/stressful event and an innate instinct will ensure you avoid the person who hit you with that pan, especially when he/she is holding that pan anywhere near you.

The same applies for cats. They make associations. Good ones and bad ones. So when you dress up a cat, it will associate the person who put him into the outfit with a negative/stressful experience and will eventually avoid the person who is inflicting this stress onto him. Dressing up a cat can be a very effective way to break a bond of trust with your cat.

Simply put, when we are confronted with a scary/stressful event, our brain produces stress hormones that make us do one of 5 things. We either fight, flee, freeze, fidget or in extreme cases we may even faint. It’s called the “Fight or Flight Response”. We humans use this response for example when confronted by a man with a gun. Some of us will fight, others might run for the hills, yet others might freeze and lose the ability to move or speak. Cats rely heavily on the “Fight or Flight Response” for survival in the wild as well as in domestic environments.

By dressing up a cat, you are interfering with the cat’s ability to act as nature intended it when confronted with a fearful or stressful event.

“But my cat loves it” I hear you say. “He never reacts badly when I dress him up” I hear you quip… The reason why your cat may appear to like it is because his brain may have decided to use the “freeze” option as a coping mechanism, not because he “loves it”.

“But he only wears it for a few minutes” you argue. If I were to gently restrain you and tickle you silly with a feather for “only a few minutes”, you would soon understand how you can torture someone without hurting them.

I may not be fully qualified as a feline behaviourist just yet but I’m willing to bet my house that no cat has ever woken up in the morning and thought, “today, I really quite fancy wearing my highly flammable pink tutu and I’ll top it off with one of my favourite tiaras.” My point really is that in evolutionary terms, there’s absolutely no need for cats to be dressed up in garish halloween costumes. Mother nature did a great job at designing a cat’s coat to keep them warm and dry (unless perhaps you are a Sphinx cat).

I can’t help but feel that anyone who likes/follows dressed up cats and therefore encourages /creates a demand for the dressing up of cats is just as responsible for the misery forced upon that cat as the person who is doing the actual dressing up. If people didn’t “like” this sort of post, there would be no demand for it and the need for dressing up cats for a cheap laugh would disappear.

If I still haven’t convinced you dressing up cats is a bad idea, please consider the following points:

  1. Cats are predators as well as prey animals which means they have to be on high alert and aware of their environment pretty much all of the time to ensure their safety and survival. Covering a cat’s head with an “oh so cute” lion mane or silly hat will very likely interfere with the cat’s sight, hearing and whisker functionality. Not to mention the stress that brings with it. Although YOU know your cat is safe, your cat has no way of knowing that.
  2. Plenty of costumes are restrictive and interfere with the free movement of a cat. The cat may find the whole experiences so stressful he may well redirect some of that frustration onto another member of the household, pet or human. Not to mention he might be picked on by other cats in the home whilst he’s in a vulnerable position looking like a dressed-up plum.
  3. Most, if not all of these commercially made costumes are made from highly flammable, synthetic fibres that to a cat’s very sensitive nose reek to the high heavens of all kinds of unpleasantness. The smell and feel of these costumes against their pristine coats that they have spent so many hours grooming is enough to tip some cats over the psychological edge. They will need to spend hours cleaning their fur to get rid of that hideous smell on their coats. More stress for the cat that may lead to over-grooming and plenty of other conditions I won’t bore you with. Some cats are also sensitive to being touched and won’t cope well with the feeling of a costume rubbing on their coats.
  4. A large proportion of these costumes have not been certified to be safe for cats and can present a choking hazard or catch fire and melt into your cats fur, leaving him with second or third degree burns. Costume pieces might also get chewed and swallowed and lead to choking or intestinal blockage.

And lastly, as the wonderful Cat Behaviourist Pam Johnson-Bennett points out, dressing your cat might make it the focus of the attention. “This may sound like a good thing but for a fearful or timid cat, the last thing he wants is to have everyone giving him direct stares and trying to interact with him. In the animal world, a direct stare is a sign of a challenge. The cat who looks adorable in his Halloween costume may actually be enduring tremendous stress as family members and guests intrude upon his personal space and force unwanted interaction.” Pam Johnson-Bennett. 2018.

P.S. For the avoidance of any doubt, I have no issue with medical shirts or any other garments for treating medical issues or breed related needs such as the naked Sphinx cats.

Edit: I’m not dressing up my cats, will you?

Reference :Johnson-Bennet P. , 2018, https://www.catbehaviorassociates.com/six-reasons-why-you-shouldnt-dress-cats-in-halloween-costumes/.