Pet Clothes: What You Need to Know

Some people love to dress their pets up. Others believe animals don’t need accessorizing: they’re already wearing elegant furs! But no matter where you stand on the topic of fashions for Fido, pet clothing is more practical than most people realize. It’s not only about bedazzling Beagles and decking out Dachshunds – it serves a purpose in regards to health, wellness, and everyday comfort.

Pet Clothes: A Fashion Trend or Here to Stay?

In America, there’s a time of the year that celebrates hounds in hoodies and pooches in ponchos: January 14 marks National Dress Up Your Pet Day. To many, this seems like little more than a silly holiday where Facebook explodes with images of our fashionable furballs. Yet, it also brings to awareness the many types of pet clothing that’s beneficial to our four-legged family members.

Of course, practicality isn’t the sole reason people dress up their animals. In fact, people do it for all kinds of reasons. And lots of people are doing it - in the US and the United Kingdom, the market for pet clothing continues to expand, conveying the message that it’s a popular habit. If it wasn’t, pet stores wouldn’t be stocked full of duds.

While it’s easy to assume that pet clothing is a relatively new thing, humans have dressed up animals for centuries. In Ancient Greece, soldiers put leather boots on the feet of their horses in an attempt to protect them from frostbite.

But the less useful aspect – the cats in party dresses and the dogs in polo shirts – is indeed a recent trend. And that’s why much pet clothing mainly falls into one of two categories: practical and indulgent.

In regards to the latter, owners are said to be engaging in a term called “functional pampering,” an act of doting on a pet in a way that may or may not be rational.

So, what does this mean? It means that there’s lots of reasons for purchasing pet clothing. Some people may buy their cat a visor because they find a feline in a hat amusing; others buy one because their tabby has sun sensitivity and sight issues.

Some people dress their pets up temporarily – long enough to get a photo – or for the day, decking them out in your team’s colors for the World Series or putting them in a squirrel costume on Halloween.

And some people dress up their pets for reasons unknown: the psychology behind it isn’t well-researched. A number of psychologists believe some people simply possess anthropomorphic tendencies, or a desire to humanize their beasts and make them more like homo-sapiens. Others believe that an owner’s love for their pet is endless, and, on occasion, involves buying a dog a cashmere sweater.

Others, still, know that there’s nothing cuter than a puppy in suit and tie. Except a puppy in a suit and tie holding another puppy.

What Vets Say About Pet Clothes

The average vet may balk at the idea of a Pug in a princess costume or a Manx in a miniskirt, but most agree that pet clothing does serve some purpose. This is especially true in regards to weather. Clothing not only keeps pets dry during rainstorms (or, at least, dryer), but it protects them from sunburn on warmer days too. Dogs with little fur, those with pink skin, and those who’ve recently been shaved (either from grooming or because of a medical procedure) are at risk for burning when outside for short and long periods of time. Dogs can and do get skin cancer; Giant Schnauzers, for instance, are at high risk for melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

While the above is important, there is perhaps no bigger benefit to pet clothes than the warmth they provide in freezing temperatures.

Cold Weather: A Danger to Your Furry Friend

Cold weather provides an inherent risk to pets, particularly dogs that don’t have thick hair (some dogs are groomed intentionally this way; other breeds do not possess thick tresses). Certain types, regardless of their fur, are inherently at greater risk. According to PetMD, small breeds, puppies, older dogs, and dogs with health issues tend to grow colder, quicker. But all pets – from the big to the hale - have the potential to suffer in the cold, more so if they get wet.

Prolonged exposure to snow, wind, or sleet results in hypothermia or frostbite. The former occurs when an animal’s body temperature falls well below normal. While a person’s average temp hovers around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, a canine’s is much higher: between 101 and 102.5 (this isn’t where the term “hot dog” originated, but we can pretend!). Hypothermia fluctuates in severity, from mild to moderate and eventually severe. An animal with a mild case may do little more than shiver, but one with a severe case is at risk for coma and death if left untreated.

Frostbite is also common in animals exposed to the cold. It happens when the body redirects blood flow to other parts, leaving things like toes without adequate attention. In animals, the tail, the nose, the paws, and the legs are most at risk.

Interestingly, pets can catch cold from being cold. It’s not in the literal sense – your dog won’t chase down a virus as though it’s a tennis ball – but exposure to low temperatures leaves your pet’s immune system compromised. Germs, bacteria, and viruses then latch on more readily.

How to Tell if Your Pet is Cold

One of the most difficult things about being a pet owner is your animal’s inability to talk to you. They communicate with you, sure: they growl and whine and stare at you longingly each time you eat a rack of lamb (and rack of anything). But you never know exactly what they’re thinking.

In regards to the cold, this requires caution: your pets can’t tell you they’re cold, so you have to look for signs proactively.

The first way to do this is the easiest: ask yourself one question – “Am I cold?” If you’re cold, there’s no guarantee that a pet is too; they have more hair than you – hopefully. But a gauge of the weather is a strong prediction of any potential level of discomfort. A good rule of thumb to abide by is the following: stand outside in your hat, gloves, and coat. If it’s too cold for you to remain outdoors bundled up, then it’s most likely too cold for your pet as well.

Other signs that your pet’s too cold include shivering and trembling, holding the tail close to the body, attempting to seek shelter in things like playgrounds or knocked over garbage cans, fur that’s cold to the touch, walking slowly, limping or licking paws, curling up, whining or whimpering, and lethargy.

Pets enjoy being outside – each time you take your dog for a walk, they think you’re the best person in the world on this - the greatest day of their lives! If your animal gives you any indication that they’re not liking their outdoor adventure, odds are it’s too cold: they’d rather be inside watching Paw Patrol.

How to Keep Your Pet Warm

And now back to our regularly scheduled discussion on pet clothes! As the above demonstrated, the cold is a real threat to animals, domesticated or not. Wild animals wearing clothes will never happen – the average grizzly bear won’t sit quietly as you pull the sweater your nana knitted over its head – but dogs and cats in shirts and hats? That’s one way to beat the lack of heat.

This brings up an important point: pet clothing, when you’re trying to keep your animal warm, isn’t limited to their torso. An animal’s paws are extremely susceptible to the cold – boots keep them off the freezing ground, making them vital for a dog that goes with you to snowshoe or cross-country ski.

However, it’s important to refrain from assuming your pet can conquer any temperature merely because they’re wearing a coat; you can remain cold no matter how many layers you’re wearing and this applies to animals as well. To keep up your vigilance, watch your furry friends closely for signs that they’re cold and never let them outdoors during extremely inclement weather – your St. Bernard doesn’t belong in a blizzard no matter how many stranded travelers they’ve claimed to have rescued from the Alps.

If you keep your pet outdoors for lengthy periods of time, it’s a good idea to make sure they have some sort of shelter to help them stay warm. If you live in an area where it doesn’t snow, shelter is important to protect them from wind and rain. An insulated dog house filled with blankets and a heated drinking bowl keeps them delightful when the elements around them turn frightful.

Any pet that exhibits symptoms of being too cold – they continue to whine or they grow hard to rouse – should be taken to a vet. Freezing temperature can cause illness, injury, and death, but fatalities are often avoided with proper, prompt care.

Other Reasons for Dressing up Your Pet

The desire to keep your loved one warm is, to many, the main reason for turning down the pet aisle at Target and filling up a shopping cart with vests and sweaters. But it’s not the lone motive; if it was, there’s be no market for animal apparel in places like Hawaii and Florida.

As mentioned previously, people dress their pets up for a myriad of reasons and, maybe, no reason. But, generally, some of the most common reasons to get your Doberman in duds include:

Staying Dry: Any animal that gets wet, ups their odds of getting cold, even if the temperature outside isn’t that low.

Cooling Off: Most clothes keep us warm, but some special kinds cool us off. Certain pet clothes are designed to stay wet, giving your loved one a reprieve from summer heat.

Preventing Sunburn: Touched upon previously, some dogs are very prone to sunburn. Though skin cancer in dogs isn’t something commonly discussed, it does affect them a lot – skin tumors (cancerous or benign) are the most common tumors found in dogs. Per WebMD, Boston Terriers, Labradors, Beagles, and Schnauzers are the most common breeds afflicted.

Not all skin tumors are due to sun exposure, but it’s a causative factor. Dogs with light-colored fur or thin coats are at greater risk than their darker, thick-coated counterparts, but every canine has at-risk areas. The nose and the ears are prone. Cats can develop skin cancer too.

Decreasing Shedding: Dogs and cats shed an average of 1.2 billion pounds of fur a year…or so it seems. If you own dogs, you know one thing for sure: your black pants will never be fully black again! If you own cats, you know another thing for sure: cat fur, whether you like it or not, is now a food group – it’s practically in everything you eat.

The point is, pets shed a lot. Not all – some dogs, like those mixed with Poodle, don’t shed much. Some cats – i.e., those that are hairless – don’t either. But, on average, to own a pet means to own a lint roller – several lint rollers.

Putting clothes on your pet won’t eliminate shedding entirely, but it does reduce it. Some clothes are designed for this exact purpose and strive to eliminate the amount of fur lost. Other ways to reduce shedding: keep your animal’s fur clipped as short as possible, brush them regularly (daily, if needed), and replace your dog or cat with a pet rock. The latter is most effective.

Making Your Animal Look That Much Cuter: Let’s face it, you know someone who dresses up their pets just because (heck, maybe you see those people often…like when you look into a mirror). It’s easy to understand the appeal: pets are cute and clothes help them look cuter. Doing this also helps include pets in your family activities: if you’re each watching a football game while wearing a jersey, why not toss one onto Rover as well? Your dog won’t care if it goes without – canines only care about football because it reminds them of pigskin which reminds them of bacon – but it’s still fun.

Make sure there’s no harm done though. In other words, get clothes that fit them correctly (don’t worry…there’s more on that in the section below!).

Buying the Correct Size for Your Pet

To buy the correct size for your pet, you must measure them first: never believe a Toy Poodle when it tells you it’s a size zero! Begin by getting a measuring tape and laying it across your pet’s back. Calculate length from the base of the tail to the base of the neck; this helps you know what size you need to cover their torso. To determine girth, wrap the measuring tape around the broadest part of the chest. Measure the neck too – measure the base of the neck by wrapping around the tape. When measuring both girth and neck, keep the measuring tape loose; you don’t want their clothes to be too tight in these areas.

Different pet brands have different sizing standards, but each package comes with guidelines to help you choose correctly. If you’re able, put your dog in the clothes prior to purchase (some pet stores that allow pets onsite may let you to do this). The clothes should fit comfortably – not snug or too loose. Allow your dog to walk around while wearing their new duds – if they can’t, you need to go up a size.

Refrain from buying any pet clothes that have extra frills or materials that are easily caught on fences or dog-doors. An outfit with a lot of buttons, for instance, may leave your dog stuck outside, unable to free itself from the wires of the gardening mesh.

Occasionally, and if you’re crafty, altering your pet’s clothing is an option. Like people, dogs and cats are not a one-size-fits-all species; some breeds are born oddly shaped. If you have a dog with a longer-than-normal body or a bigger-than-normal head, buy a size larger than they’d usually require and alter it to fit their needs.

Whether or not a particular item of clothing “fits” your pet isn’t limited to actual size: take into account their activity level, their personality, and the material the product is made of.

Pets that are very physically active needs clothing that allows them to move freely. All clothes should allow animals to move, but ones that spend the days moving and grooving need a bit more flexibility: make sure the clothes don’t restrict them in any way – they should be able to run and jump without hesitation.

Pets might not care if what they’re wearing fits their personality; a big, macho Mastiff probably doesn’t mind if it dons a t-shirt professing a love for cats. But matching the clothes to their personality is half the fun. This isn’t required – in certain instances, the opposite may appear advantageous: “Really Champ? You chewed up my slippers again? That’s it…..go sit in the corner in your tutu.”

Material matters as well. It matters most in regards to practicability. If you’re dressing your dog to prevent sunburn, make sure the material is light. If you’re dressing your dog to prevent cold, make sure the material is thick. If you’re dressing your dog to keep it from getting wet, make sure the material is waterproof.

Introducing Your Pet to Clothing

Introducing your pet to clothing is more than sitting down Spot and excitedly telling him how pretty he’s about to look – not surprisingly, many pets don’t take to clothing without a fight (or, at the very least, some form of protest).

The best time to introduce your furry friend is when they’re already lethargic – after a walk or when they’re ready for bed. A sleepy pet is a compliant pet and a compliant pet is much more amenable to your fashion choices.

Set the clothes down in front of them and allow them to explore – some pets will ignore the clothes completely; others will sniff or roll around. Allowing them to “meet” the apparel in whatever way they choose helps convey its safety.

If your pet seems frightened, consider adding your own scent: rub the clothing across the back of your neck, over your arms, or throw it into your dirty laundry and let it sit for a while.

You’ll need to teach your pet that the clothes are for them. To do this, engage in the one behavior that works for dogs and cats every single time: bribery! Put your dog in a sweater and then go for a walk immediately or give your cat a treat as you bring out the jumper. Be careful though – you don’t want to condition your animal to expect too much each moment they dress up. If you take Fluffy to the dog park for two hours the first few times you put her in a jacket, she’ll come to expect it.

Taking Pet Clothes Off

No matter how many photo ops you’re planning in your head, your pet wearing clothes is not a sure thing. Some pets absolutely won’t abide, no matter how much you speak their language with Alpo and Meow Mix. For others, they’ll become masters at taking the clothes off, regardless of how much Velcro is involved. And then there’s the issue of discomfort

Above all, you want to make sure your dog and cat are comfortable in their clothing; as you wouldn’t wear a wool sweater that left you red and itchy, pets should never wear something that influences their well-being.

To uncover hints that your pet has had enough of fashion, look for signs of distress. They might freeze or walk funny. They might stare at the ground as if they’re embarrassed. They might exhibit signs of overheating – panting, restlessness, and lying down on cool surfaces. Some animals will be downright obvious about their dislike of the duds: they try over and over again to remove the clothing and chew it into smithereens.

Whether you leave your animal alone while dressed in clothing is a personal decision, but – in the beginning – it’s best to supervise how well they’re adapting. Some animals freak out when they’re environment changes in any way – if they’re all dressed up and you have somewhere to go, they might freak out more than usual. Others risk their clothing getting stuck or snagged on household or backyard items.

More elaborate clothing – such as hats and googles – should be worn under close watch.

The Lifespan of Pet Clothes

If you have children, you know that there’s an unwritten rule related to clothing: the more expensive the clothes, the faster your child will ruin or outgrow them. With pets, you don’t have to worry about the growth factor unless you’re dressing up kittens and puppies (though weight of adult animals does fluctuate to some degree). Yet, don’t expect pet clothing to last long.

Clothing that you bring out for special occasions – a dress for Daisy to wear to her obedience school graduation – will last much longer than clothing worn regularly. The purpose of that clothing matter too: jackets designed to take the brunt of bad weather don’t have the lifespan of apparel worn indoors (or during sunshine). And so does activity level – a Chow that spends the day running through the backyard will ruin their clothes faster than a Yorkie that can’t be bothered to leave the couch.

Like human clothes, pet clothes fall victim to many things: they rip, they tear, their color fades, and they go out of style (which you might care about even if your dog or cat is partial to mom jeans). Other things that affect pet clothes are germs…..lots of germs.

Pets are like petri dishes that come to life and beg for your chicken potpie – they’re full of viruses and bacteria. They drag things into your house that you need a black light to discover. Yep, they’re disgusting (loveable, nonetheless) and this requires frequent washing of their clothes. But too much washing speeds up destruction.

In general, you should expect to replace pet clothes regularly – when they get torn and tattered and beyond repair. You should also replace them when they start to smell. Be patient….they will.

The Types of Pet Clothing

Pet clothing started as sweaters and little else. Nowadays, it’s an entire industry filled with a variety of apparel: no matter what type of clothing you want for Ripley and Rosie, you can find it somewhere.

Anyone who knits and sews has an advantage; your clothing is solely limited to your own imagination. And you’re so right: your Greyhound definitely needs a mock turtleneck!

But for anyone shopping commercially, there’s lots to choose from. Including the following:

T-Shirts: These typically contain sayings, sayings that are cute and clever and the entire reason you buy the shirt in the first place. A cat wearing one that reads, “You call it shedding. I call it sharing.” Now, that’s adorable.

If you want your t-shirt (or long-sleeved shirt) to serve more of a purpose, put your pet in a sun-protection shirt. These are UPF-infused and help ward off UV rays.

Sweaters: Mainly used during winter to keep your pet warm, sweaters are among the most popular types of animal apparel.

Coats: Sweaters aren’t enough for you when the weather is cold and they might not be enough for your animal either. But, coats aren’t designed to be worn at all times – an indoor animal might find them too hot. Don’t forget, your beasts are already wearing their own stylish furs.

Fleeces and Hoodies: Though both these types of clothing provide your pet with significant warmth, some caution is advised. Make sure fleeces aren’t too hot and make sure the hood of the hoodie isn’t easily snagged. Most clothing has a tiny hole where you can tuck the hood away for safety.

Rainwear: Dogs might like water, but they don’t usually enjoy rain (and cats tend to be entirely anti-H20). More importantly, rainwear keeps your animals dry, which helps them retain warmth: once their fur grows wet, it’s difficult for them to stay comfortable.

Life Jackets: It’s a common misconception that all dogs and cats naturally know how to swim, with the feline species swimming and then murdering whomever tossed them into the pool. But the idea of a universal ability to doggy-paddle is indeed a myth. It’s true that most pets instinctively know how to swim – most, not all. Often, they fall into one of three categories: those that are natural swimmers, those that can be taught how to swim, and those with no business near water.

It’s important to note, however, when a pet does know how to swim they may only know in the capacity of surviving: they can stay afloat, but they have their limits. This makes life jackets an important purchase anytime you take your furry friend out on the lake or the ocean.

Certain breeds need life jackets more than others. Per the Healthy Pets website, these breeds include Bulldogs, Dachshunds, and Boxers. As a rule, dogs that are top-heavy or small in stature don’t do well in the water – they’re cute, but not pets you want on the relay race of your swim team. Toy breeds tend to frighten easily, which likely adds to their limitations: it’s hard to swim gracefully when you’re having a panic attack.

Conversely, some breeds are known for being excellent swimmers, historically domesticated for working in the water. These breeds include Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. Not surprisingly, any dog with “water” it its name also possesses this reputation. Portuguese Water Dogs, Spanish Water Dogs, the American Water Spaniel, and the Irish Water Spaniel might not take to water like ducks, but they take to it like dogs who do can perform a beautiful backstroke…or a barkstroke.

It might not seem like extraordinary large dogs would be gifted swimmers, but Newfoundlands, Standard Poodles, English Setters, and Irish Setters perform well. If you have one of these breeds, you may or may not need a lifejacket. There are exceptions to every rule and no guarantee that your dog knows how to stay afloat. It’s best to test them in shallow water first before deciding to go without any kind of buoyancy.

Reflective Vests: If you own dog that you take for jogs or walks, a reflective vest is a good idea - not only for you, but for your canine. These aren’t usually necessary during daylight hours, but if you exercise in the early morning or near dusk (or even in the middle of the night), it’s essential that people can see you; a reflective vest on your pet ups the odds that they will.

Chances are you don’t jog with your cat – if you do, you’re magical! But cats can benefit from reflective gear as well. Your cat’s not likely to keep a reflective vest on – felines are quite gifted at wiggling out of everything and anything – but they may wear a reflective collar. If your cat goes outside, this type of collar makes it easier for drivers to see them at night.

Tinted Goggles: Cataracts are common in pets, and they seem inevitable: the eyes cloud as animals age. It is this age that’s the greatest risk factor, but sun exposure plays a role. You don’t need to put sunglasses on your pet each time they leave the house, but if you’re worried about cataracts, talk to your vet about whether goggles (or doggles) help.

Some pets with chronic health conditions, eye issues, or sensitivity to bright light may benefit from wearing goggles on a regular basis. Hats, namely reflective visors, serve a similar purpose.

Shoes/Booties: Your dog benefits more from shoes and booties than your cat. For one thing, a cat wearing booties loses the ability to use their claws, something cats need to defend themselves, climb, and tear your sofa to shreds; dogs are different in this capacity.

Shoe are optional under most circumstances, but there are times when some boots for your pooch is a wise purchase. Dogs that walk or hike in snow, on salted roads, on ice, on rough nature trails, and on hot asphalt benefit from shoes. Dogs with injured paws – those that are cut, scraped, or extremely sensitive – benefit as well.

Harnesses: Many owners prefer to use harnesses over collars; they offer your pet more support and less pulling on the neck. Cats have a harder time getting out of harnesses (while most have never seen a collar from which they could not escape). Some harnesses are specially designed to offer your pet more safety during car rides, which adds to their appeal.

Bandanas: Though cats aren’t as amenable, most dogs willingly wear bandanas: they’re like collars, but with less bling. Many professional groomers send pets home with bandanas on. They don’t serve much more than a decorative purpose, but they’re a great way to harmlessly adorn your dog in a little self-expression; put them in a Boston Red Sox bandana – Misty didn’t yet realize she was a fan.

Under some circumstances, a bandana does evolve into a more practical application. If you’re going to the dog park and afraid of losing your pup in a sea of hounds, put them in a bright-colored handkerchief – hot pink or neon green.

Thunder Shirts: Thunder Shirts are a recent invention made to calm the anxious pet. Dogs, much more than cats, suffer from Separation Anxiety Disorder (appropriately abbreviated SAD), a disorder characterized by extreme stress when a pet is left alone. The signs include acting out, barking, whining, and destroying the house. It’s a common cause of accidents too: you return from getting the mail to find Monroe has left you a not-so-special present in the upstairs hallway.

These shirts aren’t solely for cases of SADs; Thunder Shirts help calm pets during times of loud noises (thunder – obviously – but fireworks and windstorms), while traveling, when going to the vet, and during any other anxiety-provoking experience.

It’s not completely understood how these shirts work, but it’s believed that the pressure they exert offers a calming effect. This type of pressure is also used to calm autistic children (with things like weighted blankets) and fussy babies (through swaddling).

They offer a drug-free option for anyone with a paranoid pet. But they’re not necessarily a quick fix – some must be worn for several days before having any impact.

Troubleshooting and Closing Thoughts

You may have visions of your cat on the catwalks of Milan or your dog wearing the latest duds in a spread of Better Bones and Garden. And, maybe, this will happen. But, probably not.

Some animals refuse to wear clothing no matter how hard you try. Yet the good thing about the market is you can try and try again.

If you have a pet that refuses to wear an item, buy something else. If that doesn’t work, experiment with putting the item on during different times – the morning versus the night or after they’ve had several teeth pulled. As mentioned in an earlier section, offer treats and bribes. Most animals can be trained to do a variety of things and that includes looking fancy.

It’s important to never force animal apparel onto your pets and never punish them for their refusal to wear a shirt or a hat. If your pet repeatedly takes off whatever you put on, don’t punish them either.

Instead, upgrade to clothes more difficult for the average animal to free itself of. With the variety in stores and online, the outlook is good that you’ll find something they’ll wear. Never assume that they’re anti-clothes altogether: a dog that refuses to put on booties may not care about wearing a coat.

But there will always be dogs and cats (mostly cats) that fight at the first sign of any tiny sweater. Some pets are afraid of clothes. Some pets don’t like how they feel. Some pet fight change.

And some pets, quite frankly, are avid nudists.



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