Are Costumes Really Safe for Dogs?

Pig costume on dog
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Q. It seems like pet costume contests are as popular at Halloween as those for kids. Do you think dogs like dressing up? And is it safe?

A. My dogs like to get dressed up, or at least I don’t think they mind it at all. In our family we really enjoy dressing up our dogs. It’s simple, harmless fun. Most dogs will put up with almost any costume you put on them, as long as it means spending more time with their owner. For dogs who also enjoy getting out around other people and dogs, a costume contest just adds to the fun.

Now I need to put on my veterinarian hat for a moment.

Keep Costumes Safe

Make sure that any costume you choose or make for your pet meets common sense standards. It should be comfortable and nonrestrictive, inedible, and shouldn't involve anything that could be hazardous to your pet's health, such as toxic dye or any paint. If you don’t want to make your own costume, pet supply retailers have a wide selection, and a lot of the costumes are pretty darn cute. Don’t expect to win a prize at the costume contest for originality if you go this route, though.

And yes, there are nontoxic dyes for pets, available through online suppliers to the pet grooming industry. (Follow directions to the letter, as always.) The first time I saw a blue poodle at a trade show, I did a double take. Now I barely notice, thanks to the eye-popping work of professional groomers who do amazing things with color — although I have to admit I am at best ambivalent about dogs as topiary!

Be Creative!

Sometimes a simple idea can be a winner: My writing partner, Gina Spadafori, likes to tell about the time she put round white circles (the kind used to color-code file folders) on her black retriever and took first place in a costume contest with her “reverse Dalmatian.”

If your dog is shy or anxious, or aggressive toward other dogs or people, though, you're better off enjoying a more private Halloween at home, just the family. And if you do take your dog out trick-or-treating, keep him on leash for safety.

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