There are two main reasons why people put clothes on cats. The first reason is functional. You can buy “clothes” which calm your cat, for example. This is the Thundershirt. You can buy a jacket for your cat which stops him biting himself if he has had surgery. It is an alternative to the Elizabethan collar. You might even buy a fleece jacket for your single-coated cat if he goes outside and it is very cold. Functionality is perfectly acceptable, indeed it is necessary sometimes. It’s about improving animal welfare provided the item does not interfere with natural movement and behaviour or the balance between impairing natural behaviour and improving the cat’s life is acceptable.
The big issue is why do people put clothes on their cats when the clothes are simply decorative and serve no purpose from the cat’s perspective. The BBC discussed this many years ago in an article dated 8 February 2012. The author of that article said that the reasons why pet owners dress up their pets is not yet well researched. I don’t think you have to research it.
The reason why cat owners (and we have to include dog owners) put clothes on their cats when they serve no cat welfare purpose is for entertainment. It is good fun to do it. I cat looks very cute with miniature human clothes. And in the era of social media where there is huge competition to attract viewers, cats in clothes is one way to do it. It stretches a person’s imagination and there are some fantastic examples of it. It is a creative process and almost an art form at its best.
The underlying driving force behind putting cats in clothes is anthropomorphism. We all do it. We treat cats as family members and a good thing too. They are companions to us and often a substitute for a human companion. That itself is a form of anthropomorphising the domestic cat.
It is also easy to humanise cats because they remind us, with their big eyes and round faces, of babies. They are cuddly and nice to touch. Some cat breeders of cats such as the Scottish Fold create cat faces which look more like the faces of babies.
We see examples of animal anthropomorphism in all kinds of media such as film, television, video games and books. It is said to be an innate tendency of human psychology. Technically speaking, it is the attribution of human traits, emotions or intentions to non-human entities.
Dressing up cats in human clothes is an extension of animal anthropomorphism. A famous English artist, Lewis William Wain drew anthropomorphised cats and kittens with great success.
However, it has to be clear that if putting clothes on a cat impinges negatively on their natural behaviour it should not be done because it goes against their welfare. And as putting miniature versions of human clothes on a cat will normally stop them behaving normally, it has to be decried. I don’t want to be someone who criticises these people and spoils the fun but that has to be the conclusion if you are concerned with animal welfare.
If it is not about pure entertainment, putting clothes on cats is about making money. Social media generates money through advertising and there is a fishmonger in Vietnam who dresses up their cat with great ingenuity (see picture at top of page). I am sure that this has attracted business. We’ve also seen railway station cats dressed up as Station Masters (see below). They have generated interest and increased footfalls to those railway stations.
So putting decorative clothes on cats is for human benefit entirely. That’s fine provided the cat does not pay for it in terms of welfare.