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Why Cats Hate Halloween Costumes -- and How to Get Your Cat to Tolerate One

And now, a look inside the feline mind during this annual ritual.

 |  Oct 31st 2013  |   5 Contributions


With Halloween around the corner, our thoughts turn to seasonal festivities, but cats typically HATE costumes. Cats often vote with their furry feet when owners don masks, but really become hissy if asked to wear feline finery. You may be able to persuade them otherwise, but only by understanding what’s going on inside the kitty brain. Check out these reasons why cats hate Halloween costumes, and how you can get around their objections. 

You like dressing up for Halloween, but are you sure your cat does? Gothic woman and cat by Shutterstock

1. Looks Scary

We can’t explain to cats the purpose of you wearing a witch hat or your son waving a plastic pitchfork while a flapping cape flutters from his shoulders. The sight is enough to send cats diving for cover. It’s even worse when the cape attaches to the cat’s collar, for instance, or “fake arms” flap on her sides. The more Kitty runs, the more it “chases” her, and she can’t get away. My cat Seren once caught her head through the handle of a paper bag, with the same effect; she raced around the house terrified but couldn’t get away, and it took quite some time for her to calm down once it was removed. 

This pirate kitty might be ready to make you walk the plank. Cat in Pirate Halloween Costume" by Flickr Creative Commons

2. Feels Funny

When first presented with a harness, many cats turn into statues. They fall over onto the floor, legs extended, and meow with dismay, convinced that the “thing” has hold of them and they’re paralyzed and can’t move. Multiply that feeling ten times for a glimpse at your cat’s perception of being covered in fabric from neck to tail. 

3. Smells Strange

Cats identify safe people and objects by scent. That’s why they cheek-rub your furniture, your ankles, and each other. A costume covers up their own self-scent so they don’t even recognize themselves, and other cats certainly will be fearful -- or even aggressive -- at the presence of a costumed kitty that smells so foreign. You could potentially cause a feline riot with long-ranging behavior fallout. 

The smells of Halloween decorations may also freak out your cat. Cat and pumpkin by Shutterstock

4. Sounds Weird

Rustling fabric, jingle bells, a hat scrunched over kitty ears, or other costume sound effects can be off-putting to cats. Remember that felines have much more sensitive hearing than people do. The odd sounds can be distracting, cause fear, or just be an annoyance that gets on kitty nerves.

5. Rubs Fur

A good fit is essential. Rubbing fur the wrong way not only can be uncomfortable, it could hurt. Besides, most cats consider their coat to be a crowning glory and anything that covers up their fur detracts from intrinsic feline beauty.

6. Cuts Off Communication

Cats talk to each other with ear and tail position, fur elevation, and even their eyes. Costumes that mask these means of communication make cats uneasy. It’s the same as if somebody tied your hands and taped your mouth shut and then put you in a crowd of people. 

7. Blocks Vision

Depending on the costume, something that blocks the cat’s vision like a fluffy collar can seem dangerous from the cat’s perspective. She hates the thought of being ambushed -- after all, SHE is the one who wants to do the ambushing! 

This cat can't signal with his ears, but his horns look pretty angry. Cat in devil costume by Shutterstock

8. Cats Can’t Escape

Cats are used to moving about freely, being able to paw-swipe objects, leap high, slink through tiny openings, and even pretzel themselves into weird positions in order to groom themselves. A costume puts your cat into a feline straitjacket, and makes them feel as though they've captured by “something” without means to escape.

9. Attracts Stares

Humans dress up in costumes as a fun way to entertain each other, and the more bizarre and fun, the better we like it. It’s a way to attract attention, and receive compliments. But cats consider stares to be a challenge and a potential prelude to an attack. Dressing up in a costume makes your kitty a target for admiring glances, sure -- but from the cat’s perspective, she’s under attack.

How to Purr-Suade Cats to Accept Costumes

Wear your costume early, and dress in front of the cat while you talk to her. Make sure kitty knows it’s you beneath the rubber mask.

Keep it simple. A fancy jester collar may be more than enough. Ensure any costume won’t interfere with the cat’s ability to move, hear, see, or breathe. 

Start early. Allow your cat to explore the costume by leaving it out on the floor. Try petting your cat with parts of the costume so it smells like the kitty and is less scary. 

After a couple of days, place the costume over the cat’s back for ten seconds, while perhaps playing with a feather toy or feeding a special treat. That associates the presence of the costume with BONUS fun for the cat. Repeat several times. Use different parts of the costume if it’s complicated, so the cat learns all of it is safe.

Finally, put on the cat’s costume. Tease with the feather toy to lure the cat to stand and follow. That shows the cat she’s NOT paralyzed and can move while wearing it. 

Then supervise. You want to make sure nothing scary or dangerous happens during the howl-iday. Take lots of pictures, because playing dress up for cats may be a once-in-a-nine-lives event.

Amy Shojai is a certified animal behavior consultant, author of two dozen pet care books, and lives with a smart-aleck German Shepherd and a Siamese wannabe, neither of which appreciates dress up. She blogs at Bling, Bitches, & Blood and writes puppy-licious content at Puppies.About.com, where you can learn more tips for a safe puppy Halloween.

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