Hercules, a pug, dressed up like a pig waits to take the stage during the Halloween Pet Parade and Costume Contest in Coconut Grove, Fla. Pet owners will dress up millions of dogs this month for Halloween parades, parties, pictures, contests or candy hunts.
AMY E. CONN Enlarge
LOS ANGELES -- Pet owners love dressing up their dogs for Halloween. Only problem is, dogs don't always love wearing costumes. But there are some tricks you can use for those pets that don't think it's a treat to wear hats, boots, masks, and coats for their owners' amusement.
If a dog is used to wearing clothes, costumes may not be a problem, said veterinarian Terry Marie Curtis, a clinical behaviorist for the Department of Small Animal Clinical Services at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.
Dogs accustomed to wearing snug items designed to calm anxiety -- like Thundershirts, Anxiety Wraps, or Storm Defender Capes -- should be able to adjust to other types of clothing, she said.
But every pet is different. "Many dogs hate things on their feet," she said. "This is true because it can alter how they perceive where they're walking."
Some dogs are used to booties, though, either because they live where the ground gets very hot or cold, or they are carried most of the time. "The smaller pocket pups are more likely to have 'dress up' in their experience because that's what mom has done since puppyhood," Ms. Curtis said.
For fussy dogs (and cats), try a starter costume consisting mostly of accessories, advised Reyna Jew, who buys dog and cat apparel, shampoo, travel products, and carriers for PetSmart.
Try angel, fairy, or bat wings, a pirate or witch hat. If that's still too much, there are bows that clip in the pet's hair, necklaces and decorative collars or bandannas made of Halloween-themed fabric.
Target offers 29 costume styles for dogs, including five rider styles (a stuffed character rides on the back of the pet) designed for larger dogs and 10 partial costumes for the pet that won't tolerate a full costume, said Kristy Welker of Target Communications in Minneapolis.
Options include items that attach to collars, like flowers and even Saint Bernard-style rescue barrels, said Ms. Welker. These won't upset animals who don't like wearing clothes, but they'll look like costumes to human eyes.
Target also carries three styles of T-shirts and three styles of pajamas, including prisoners and skeletons.
Costumes that cover a pet's head or include eyeglasses or masks may be a challenge. You'll have to see what your dog will tolerate, but don't be surprised if a mask or hat is repeatedly shaken or pawed off.
The most popular costume at PetSmart is the bumblebee, followed by the pumpkin and dragon, Ms. Jew said. Bat wings, hot dogs, and a sheriff are Target's best-sellers. Pajamas are popular because they are comfortable, Ms. Welker said. At BuyCostumes.com, a raptor, bee, and a dog-riding cowboy top the list.
No one sells costumes just for cats. But some dog collars and accessories will work for cats as well.
Some pet owners want to dress like their pets or want to dress their children and pets alike. It's easy to mix and match many pet costumes with adult costumes from other stores, Ms. Jew said. For example, there are Superman and Batman dog costumes. An owner can easily get a Lois Lane or Robin costume, she said.
Target offers hot dog and banana costumes for both adults and pets, Ms. Welker said.
Pet costumes are made to go on easy, Ms. Jew said, and usually fasten with Velcro.
The best-selling size costume is medium, which usually fits a 30 to 40-pound dog. "The toy breeds are second up," Ms. Jew said.
One trend that's driving demand for pet costumes is the surging number of dress-up events for pets being staged by neighborhoods, cities, shelters, rescues, magazines, Web sites, pet stores, charitable organizations, and other groups, including photo contests, pet parades, and businesses inviting pets in costume to drop by, Ms. Jew said. PetSmart is among those sponsoring a costume contest, and you don't have to buy the outfit at the store to enter, Ms. Jew said.
As the holiday approaches, pet owners should keep a few things in mind. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals warns that costumes should not limit an animal's "movement, hearing, sight, or ability to breathe, bark, eat, drink, or eliminate. And watch for choking hazards."
And, the ASPCA says, remember that chocolate is toxic for dogs, while the aluminum foil and cellophane in candy wrappers can cause serious problems for cats and dogs.
Dr. Justine Lee, associate director of veterinary services for the national Pet Poison Helpline in Minneapolis, said during Halloween week last year, calls about dogs that ingested chocolate increased by 209 percent over a typical week
All the activity and oddly dressed people coming and going may scare your pet, Ms. Curtis said. "I've worked with many dogs who are deathly afraid of cameras and the flash, so if their owners are doing a lot of picture taking around this time, then that could contribute to the overall fear, too," she said.
The ASPCA also suggests keeping pets away from doors when greeting trick-or-treaters and recommends against candles to light up pumpkins.
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