You’re at the pet store and it’s October. There’s an aisle of pet costumes, some of them cat size, and you pause. Your tuxedo kitty would make an adorable vampire! Wouldn’t Muffin be an elegant Egyptian princess? Some of these costumes make it very tempting to dress up your cat for Halloween, or for the other upcoming holidays. (Santa Kitty, anyone?) But don’t most cats hate being dressed up? Will wearing a silly costume be traumatizing for your fluffy sidekick?

Well, maybe–or maybe not! A good rule of thumb to consider is… if your cat is comfortable wearing a collar and body harness, your cat will likely be comfortable wearing a similarly appropriate costume. Cats are more adaptable than you might think, and quite a few of them will tolerate a few minutes in a fun collar or costume for you to post on Facebook or Instagram. But if your cat really hates it, will he resent you forever? Here are some things to consider:

Hats are usually not a good idea. Cats need free range of ear movement to feel comfortable. Their ears are an important factor in how they perceive the world and communicate emotion. So when they are covered up, it can be stressful. Even hats with ear holes, or those cute, tiny hats that sit on top of the head can affect a cat’s ability to move their ears around. Plus, the elastic needed to keep the hat on the cat can be restraining. You have to make sure your cat’s whiskers aren’t stuck in the elastic– whiskers are another important feline sensory organ. So hats, no matter how festive, are better left unbought.

Some cats do well with a small hat that sits between the ears.

Make sure the costume is the right size. Measure your cat before buying a costume. (Hint: if your cat lets you measure him without complaint, chances are better he will tolerate wearing a costume.) Something that’s too big or too small will be uncomfortable for your cat, and it’s best to know exact measurements. Make sure the outfit is something your cat can move comfortably in. If you would have to dress your cat like you’re dressing a doll, it is probably not a good costume choice for even the most willing felines.

Every self-respecting pirate ship has a cat who runs things.

Be cautious about ribbons, appliques, and other trim. If your cat likes to chew on these things, they might pose a choking hazard. Or you can remove them before you put the costume on.

A decorative collar is often the easiest, least annoying costume for a cat.

Keep it simple. A costume that can be put on and removed in mere seconds is ideal. If your cat already wears a collar, festive neckwear that slips on easily and quickly is probably the least invasive and best choice.

Now you have a costume and you want to take photos. Here are some tips for success.

  • Be prepared. In general, photo sessions with cats should be fast (they have short attention spans and not much patience), but costume shoots should be even more so. So have your camera or phone ready, with the settings the way you want, and any props already in place. Being prepared also means you’ve tried the costume on your cat in advance, so you know how he feels about it, and how it fits.
  • Have your cat’s favorite things handy. Since your cat is doing you a big favor by wearing something that’s not natural to him, and sitting for a photo op, reward him with what he likes best. For nearly all cats, that means their favorite treats. For younger or more active cats sometimes that’s a toy. A wand toy with something sparkly at the end is a good attention getter if you want the cat to look in your direction
  • Your cat’s comfort comes first. If he’s clearly unhappy or the costume is making him uncomfortable in any way, take it off. A photo is not worth making your cat unhappy.
  • Remove the costume the very second you are done taking photos, and give more treats or playtime so the cat leaves with a good feeling.
  • Never, ever dress up a shy or timid cat. A photo is definitely not worth traumatizing a cat who would rather avoid unwanted attention.
  • If your cat clearly dislikes wearing a costume, chalk it up to experience and never do it again! He will thank you.
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Janiss Garza
Janiss Garza has been writing about cats, rock music, and vintage film for over 25 years, and also runs a small publishing company. In her spare time, she volunteers with her cat Summer as a therapy pet team.