Why do people dress up their pets?

Dogs rolling in snow

In the US and UK the market for clothing for pets is growing. But is it a sensible bit of indulgence or an inappropriate fad, asks Helen Soteriou.

Anyone going into a park during the recent cold weather might very well have seen dogs wearing winter coats.

Clothing for pets is a booming market with spending expected to break the £30m mark in 2012 in the UK, according to market research firm MTW Research.

In the US, the trend is even more pronounced. While in the UK a retailer like Argos might sell only functional winter jackets for dogs, at a US retailer like Target you can buy everything from a colourful polo shirt to stegosaurus-themed fancy dress costumes.

There is a long tradition of very specific functional clothing for animals. Ancient Greek armies would put leather boots on the feet of their horses to protect them against snow. Police animals can be dressed in fluorescent covers.

But now less functional clothing is becoming a boom industry, with boutiques offering all manner of exotic outfits.

Cat in red riding hood outfit Yes, this is an actual cat in a Red Riding Hood outfit

Louis is a dog. He is also the face of two pet boutiques in west London's Notting Hill, run by his owner Andre Carless.

A fashion designer by trade, Carless initially used fabric off-cuts to make T-shirts for dogs. When he moved into co-ordinated ranges for men and dogs, the dog range took off and encouraged him to specialise.

"Louis is the inspiration for everything I do," Carless states. "I kept making things for him and people kept asking me 'where did you buy that?' and I knew people were interested in that."

The pet clothing market is broadly divided between "practical" and "indulgent" items.

The RSPCA's position is that clothing is appropriate for animals in some circumstances. For old, bald, thin, tiny or ill dogs a layer to provide warmth or waterproofing in cold weather may be beneficial.

Greyhound and whippet owners have long used coats for them in very cold weather in much the same way a horse owner might use a blanket.

"There can be clear benefits from animals wearing some forms of clothing such as for warmth and waterproofing," says the RSPCA. "However, functionality must always come before fashion and the clothing must have a clear welfare benefit when dressing animals."

The market ranges from highly indulgent products to what is termed "functional pampering", says David Lummis, senior pet market analyst at research firm Packaged Facts.

Cats in wigs Many owners buy items purely for photoshoots

"The more interesting products of recent years are those geared toward senior and other special needs pets, meeting real needs such as protecting the paws, and keeping the pet warm while treating joint conditions."

You can find "therapy jackets" for pets with aches and pains including hip dysplasia and canine arthritis, he says.

In 2012, MTW Research estimates that sales of pet clothing will top £30m for the first time, hitting £35m by 2015.

But spending on pet clothes is not all functional and it's not all aimed at dogs. Carless stocks products ranging from sun visors which can be worn by cats that have sight problems to cashmere jumpers ideal for hairless cats who feel the cold.

Some people are buying items only to momentarily dress up their animals for a photo shoot.

US firm Kitty Wigs offer wigs for cats. They come in three different colours - Pink Passion, Silver Fox, and Electric Blue.

Owner Julie Jackson and her muse, a lilac-point Siamese named Boone, offer purely indulgent items, which she says are strictly photo props. Her website advises "if your cat's not initially interested, don't force it" and suggests starting with a can of food to encourage co-operation from the cat.

But do cats and dogs really love the attention or does the clothing craze say more about the owners' needs?

Dogs Some items are not entirely practical

The RSPCA warns owners that animals are not accessories and says that clothing should not restrict movement or affect their ability to relieve themselves.

But there's a more complicated problem.

"The animal would be aware that something is being done to it, the same as when a collar is being put on. If the animal appears to tolerate the attention and fuss of being dressed up, then as long as it can perform normal functions ie walk, toilet, rest then there is not a welfare issue," says clinical animal behaviourist Pippa Hutchison.

"I have a problem, though, when it comes to communicating with other dogs - it is hard enough for dogs to 'read' the body language between different breed types. Therefore, potentially there is a problem here. A 'dressed up' dog may not be understood and another dog may be aggressive towards it, or the 'dressed' dog may get frustrated in the presence of other dogs and become aggressive itself."

The reasons why pet owners dress up their pets are not yet well researched.

"There would be a long way to go before these fads could be said to be anything more than just fads," says Dr Helen Barrett, developmental psychologist and research fellow at Birkbeck College, University of London. "The anthropomorphising tendencies that some, if not most people at some point, have in relation to their pets doesn't necessarily indicate a fundamental shift in the way those people value close human relationships."

Those who choose not to dress up their pets probably have their own explanations for the trend.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    The day my cat contributes to my horrendous heating bills is the day I'll start paying to clothe him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    "The reasons why pet owners dress up their pets have not been researched yet."
    Really, do we need to research that?!
    There is a touch of the ridiculous in most of us and many enjoy ridiculing, deriding those who cannot fight against it or are unaware of it: their own children, pets, partners, best friends, etc. People enjoy making fun of and mocking others -- with pets they can do it overtly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    the Fashion industry has been dressing up some right old dogs for years

  • Comment number 164.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    Apart from 'necessary clothing' (keeping warm in extreme cold or medical), the only reason I can see why people would decide to dress their pets up is vanity..These are the kind of people who end up expressing their own 'wacky' personality through their unfortunate pets. Nothing other than a cry for attention, like..."look at my pooch, what an extrovert I am, please come and talk to me about me"

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    They are animals, not proxy fashion accessories for goodness sake.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    Clearly, the people who view this as a valid activity have too much time on their hands. I suggest they sign up to an Open University course in the hope that they may boost their IQ levels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    Utter waste of money. The anthropomorphism of animals as ballooned out of control, it really is quite disturbing. People starving, countries in chaos and people wasting cash on coats and hats for animals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    There are some animals who'll put up with anything. My son, aged 5, showed me our amiable old labrador, grinning happily whilst wearing a toy plastic helmet and a camouflage apron. 'Look at my fierce battle dog!'

    But in my opinion, if your age is in double figures and you want to dress up your dog or cat, there's something not quite right ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    As long as it doesn't cause any discomfort or annoyance to the pet then leave the owners alone. They aren't doing anyone any harm and should be allowed to dress their pets however they want.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    If the dog enjoys it , it is nobodies business but the owners. Aren't you all being sanctamonious and judgemental. Cats no, they do not have the intelligence or the sense of humour to enjoy it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    My dog (spaniel) has two 'outfits': one fleece, which is for use after walks in foul weather and on the rare times that he works - it helps him warm up, and dries him out quicker after he's been towelled off. He also has a waterproof 'rug' - he gets stiff joints if he gets too cold and wet, so on the very worst days he wears this. Both are comfortable for him and have a practical purpose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    Ian, I agree about the doggy poop scooping, you just cannot look cool doing this, but it is still cooler than walking into your friends house with it all over your shoes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    If you think it is bad in the UK or USA, you should come to China and take a look at some of the outfits Chinese people in Beijing dress their dogs in! However, one can understand it for this place: it is often below -4 here at the moment, and one day last week it never got above -7 all day. Temperatures below -20 at night are frequent at the moment as well. (All are in Celcius, by the way).

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Now whilst my cat was as daft as they come, she'd let anyone pick her up and give her a cuddle, if I'd tried to put clothes on her I'd have needed a blood transfusion afterwards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    When I was younger I sometimes 'dressed up' my dog Shandy - only in the house/garden and not for long. Still have a photo of her wearing a Bay City Rollers T-shirt & scarf. ;)

    I can only imagine the look I'd get from my cat now if I tried anything like that! Death stare x 1000 probably.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    Elaine, my dearest friend, has just told me that the funniest sight is seeing a human picking up a dog's faeces , she says she always beeps her horn when she spots this act.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    I have two devon rex cats and although we have got jumpers for them they prefer to snuggle into duvets, sheep skins and sleeping bags for warmth. They do feel the cold more than other breeds because of their thin fur but it is not a fashion thing, i won't leave my animals in their jumpers while unsupervised due to rish of strangulation. Animals sometimes need clothing but not for fashion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    "The word substitute comes to mind."

    The words "pathetic" and "moronic" spring more readily to mind!

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    I don't agree with some of the silly items people buy to dress their pets in. A warm coat for dogs that need it, that's about it. The comment from the RSPCA about dogs struggling to interpret the intentions of another dog whilst wearing a coat or other outfit is bang on - we have experienced this and it is little understood.


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