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Why Do Cats Fall Over When You Put Clothes On Them?

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Clothes serve many purposes, they can protect us from the elements, and provide a barrier between our skin and the environment.

Most animals, including cats, can survive without clothes because they have their fur to protect them.

While hairless breeds could benefit from a cute sweater, most cats don’t tolerate clothes. Some will try to free themselves the moment you dress them up, others may go limp.

But why do cats fall over when you put clothes on them?

Some cats will fall over because they feel restricted by clothes, their vision may be obscured, and they’re incapable of using their body language. The overstimulation of their senses can also make a cat freeze when wearing clothes.

Whether falling over to the side is a form of protest or not, I think we need to take a closer look at the reasons below and see if dressing up cats is something we should be doing!

Why Do Cats Fall Over Whan You Dress Them?

Some cats are easygoing and will tolerate wearing clothes at least for a short while. Others will try to escape the confines of the costume their owners dressed them up in.

Both of these reactions seem adequate, but if your cat reacts to dressing up by freezing and falling over then you might become confused or even worried for your kitty.

So, let’s resolve this confusion!

Reason 1: They Feel Scared

If you’ve tried putting a Halloween or Christmas costume on your cat to take cute pictures and all you got was an immobile kitty that’s shaking, then they might be terrified of this unfamiliar sensation.

Cats are not used to wearing clothes, and if they’ve never experienced how it feels to wear a harness or collar then a piece of clothing can definitely feel scary.

Depending on the costume you chose, the design itself can feel “scary” to your cat. Perhaps there’s a cape, or additional appendages that jiggle and move as your cat moves, or little bells that make noise.

Reason 2: They Feel Restricted

Cats rely on their bodies for their flexibility and having complete freedom of movement is crucial for their survival.

Aside from climbing, jumping, and running they also communicate their mood and feelings with their body. But if you put clothes on your cat you’ll be restricting these abilities and they’ll naturally feel uneasy, some will fight back and others will flop down immobilized by their costume.

An unrestricted cat can show you if they’re angry or annoyed, but being unable to use these same visual cues to communicate their feelings can freeze them up, just like a straitjacket would do to most humans.

Reason 3: They Overstimulate Them

You probably have seen your cat react positively or negatively when touched in certain areas.

Some cats don’t like it when you touch their paws, and if you try to do it they might tuck them beneath their body or pull them away.

On the other hand, most cats enjoy it when you scratch or pet them at the base of their tail, while the belly is a controversial area that some cat parents are blessed to have access to.

All this means that our cats are sensitive creatures and when it comes to touch their senses are more heightened than our own. So, you can imagine how uncomfortable they might feel when a piece of garment is touching all these regions of their body.

The overstimulation of these sensitive areas can leave your kitty frozen in place and that’s why they might fall down on their side and not move.

Reason 4: They Obscure Their Vision

Both as predators and as prey cats need their vision to hunt and avoid other possible threats.

So, if a cat’s vision is suddenly impaired by a costume, then they’ll get scared, and they will start panicking because they know that they won’t be as efficient at defending themselves.

A few years ago one of my cats had eye surgery and he had to wear the Elizabethan cone for a couple of weeks. This was a truly difficult experience for him because he couldn’t see well, and his mobility was restricted.

While he never really went limp, he did try to take the cone off, and his movements were really awkward until the cone was eventually removed.

If you dressed up your cat with a funny costume that came with an additional hat or something that obscured their peripheral vision then it’s not surprising that they suddenly stop moving until that item was removed.

Reason 5: The Clothes Smell Weird

A cat’s heightened sense of smell is one of their main tools of communication. Cats use their scent to mark certain areas, objects around the house, and even their humans by rubbing against them to feel safer and more secure.

That’s why if you present a cat with an unfamiliar item the first thing they’ll usually do is smell that item and then rub against it unless they don’t like the smell, in which case they’ll walk away or even bat at that item of clothing.

Dressing up your cat with a costume that has a strange smell can make your kitty feel scared and uncomfortable. Clothes sold online, especially those that are cheaply made can have a strong chemical or plastic smell that can be off-putting.

Usually, when cats get in contact with certain smells they don’t like, they’ll groom themselves to reestablish their own scent on their fur. But a funny-smelling sweater will restrict their grooming abilities which in turn will stress them out and they might fall over.

Reason 6: Wrong Sizing

If your cat has always been cool with wearing clothes, and you’ve never seen them protest in any sort of way seeing them suddenly fall over can be quite alarming.

But perhaps the problem lies in the fit and construction of the cat costume or clothing item itself.

If the shirt, sweater, or Halloween costume is made of poor materials, it’s too heavy or tight then your cat can feel uncomfortable and in some cases experience pain.

The elastic band around the legs or neck could also be too narrow, thus, preventing proper blood circumvallation and restricting their mobility, causing this strange reaction.

Reason 7: Unwanted Attention

Some cats can tolerate wearing some type of clothing, but they might feel uncomfortable when they get extreme reactions from their owner, other family members, and people.

I’m sure most of us would also feel awkward or even get annoyed by the high-pitched ecstatic reaction of our peers or family just for wearing clothes!

Don’t get me wrong my cats have received their fair share of high-pitched screams from me as I proclaimed my undying love for their furry cuteness. As you can imagine their reaction was to run away from me.

So, if your cat gets the same kind of attention whenever they’re all dressed up then dropping down on the floor and hoping for this storm to end seems completely logical and fair!

Reason 8: As A Sign Of Protest

Having two cats made me realize how different each kitty is and how differently they will respond to the same situation.

One cat might try to attack you even as you try to push a piece of clothing over their head, while another one will try to twist and turn until they’ve managed to free themselves from that costume you successfully dressed them up with.

Some cats might have a more unconventional reaction, and they’ll freeze after getting dressed up instead of fighting or fleeing. This could be their peaceful way of telling you that they’re not enjoying this situation.

Cats will often fall over when their owners put a harness on them and instead of walking along with their human they’ll lay down and let the person drag their limp body.

Here’s a video showing this kitty that can’t seem to stand up when wearing his vest!

If your kitty chooses to fall on the floor instead of running away or hurting you then you should listen to their protest and remove their clothes.

Why Do Cats Hate Clothes?

Whether your cat freezes the moment they have a piece of clothing on or they try to claw their way out of them, the reason they hate being dressed up has to do with the fear of being restricted.

Cats aren’t like us, and wearing clothes is unnatural for cats. Instead, they have their fur that helps them regulate their body temperature whether it’s cold or hot.

All of the reasons above can explain the intense and negative reaction a kitty can have when they wear clothes.

In most cases, clothes will evoke a fight or flight reaction in your feline companion. But their reaction could be milder if your cat has been accustomed to wearing clothes since kittenhood.

Should You Dress Your Cat?

Overall, there’s no real reason why cats should wear clothes. Most cats have no difficulty regulating their body temperature and their fur basically acts as clothing.

In fact, cat clothes can actually be dangerous. Wearing clothes can cause your cat to overheat, they can lead to injuries, even strangulation if your kitty gets caught on something or stuck somewhere especially if they’re an outdoor cat.

Clothing can also restrict their natural functions like grooming or going to the toilet. Dressing up your cat can also be a stressful experience and your kitty could become ill.

Of course, cat clothes and accessories can be beneficial to some cats under certain circumstances, like keeping hairless and shaved cats warm during the cold months and protecting them from injuring themselves.

But looking at the cat market it’s clear that the vast majority of cat costumes are made for entertainment purposes and they don’t actually benefit cats.

When Is It Ok To Dress Up Your Cat?

Some cat parents wouldn’t really consider dressing up their cats, but in some cases, certain clothes can be beneficial to cats and I think this is something all cat parents should be aware of.

For Skin Conditions

Cats can suffer from various skin conditions and even a healthy kitty can develop one because of excessive grooming that can cause hair loss, also known as Alopecia.

Flea infestations, allergies, and itchy skin and parasites can irritate the skin, and cause your kitty to over-groom and scratch the afflicted areas, causing even more damage.

Usually, the vet will place an Elizabethan Colar on your cat to stop them from over-grooming. But you can also ask them if your cat can wear clothes instead, that will also help the possible scratching and protect their skin.

This might only work if your cat can tolerate wearing clothes and if the item itself is cat-friendly, made of soft materials that won’t complicate their condition. Otherwise, you’re only going to aggravate the situation and add more stress to your already anxious kitty.

During Recovery

If your cat has gotten surgery or they’re under medical treatment then it’s important to keep your fluffy overload away from their wounds, or from ingesting the medication that you’ve applied to the affected area.

In these cases, PetMD states “a sweater could keep a kitty warm and prevent him from licking incisions.

A proper piece of clothing that is not restricting can draw away your cat’s attention from their wound and keep them warm if they were shaved.

For Behavioral Reasons

It’s understandable that most cats hate wearing clothes, but in some cases, they could actually be beneficial and reduce their anxiety.

The Thundershirt for cats is a specialized piece of clothing that applies constant and gentle pressure around your cat’s body that can relieve stress-related conditions.

These shirts have been proven to work mostly on cats and Mike Delgado, a certified cat behaviorist says that “while Thundershirts for cats may indeed have a calming effect, getting them on your cat can be an issue.”

He also points out that your cat may lay down and stop moving around when wearing a Thudershirt which might be caused by all the reasons we’ve already mentioned.

According to Tammy Hunter, DVM, you can reduce the stress of veterinary visits for some cats with a Thundershirt, “which swaddles the cat much like swaddling an infant, may reduce anxiety.”

The official Thundershirt that you can find here on Amazon states that these shirts can help keep your kitty in different situations like traveling, vet visits, storms, fireworks, vacuuming, with over 80% success rate.

While the Thundershirt has plenty of positive reviews from cat parents claiming that they work, this can’t be your first solution if your kitty is anxious. You still need to look for the source of their anxiety and treat that first.

For Warmth

Cats don’t just have fluffy coats for aesthetic reasons, but they use their fur to regulate their body temperature during the cold and warm months.

Since the feline normal body temperature is 101.0 to 102.5°F (38.3 to 39.2°C) which is much higher than the normal human body temperature of 98.6°F (37°C), our cats have winter coats to survive the winter cold.

This is also why you’ll find cats seek out warm places around the house like the radiator, a warm blanket, or your lap.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “just like people, pets’ cold tolerance can vary from pet to pet based on their coat, body fat stores, activity level, and health.”

So, hairless breeds like the Sphynx, or cats that only have an undercoat like the Cornish Rex may need to wear clothes to keep warm during the cooler seasons, especially if you live in the northern hemisphere.

According to Kirsten Kranz, “if the temperature is uncomfortable for you, it’s worse for Sphynx cats.” But you still need to make sure your hairless kitty can tolerate clothes.

Dr. Susan Sikule also says that she “sometimes sends older cats home in sweaters after a grooming session if she has removed large areas of their coat.”

If your cat can’t keep themselves warm, then you’ll need to look for clothing that is not restricting and comfortable and it’s best to not leave your cat unattended when they’re dressed up in case they get tangled.

How To Teach Your Cat To Wear Clothes?

If you and your vet think that your kitty could benefit from wearing clothes for the above reasons, then you need to make this process as positive and comfortable as possible for your feline companion.

Use Clothes Designed For Cats

Just because a tiny sweater or a Halloween costume looks cute doesn’t mean they’re right for your cat.

It’s important that you do your research beforehand and look for clothes that are specifically designed for cats.

I’d also suggest avoiding making the clothes yourself because it’s not easy to measure and be precise when it comes to cat anatomy.

Remember to buy clothes in which your cat can still complete basic tasks like going to the toilet, eating, drinking, running, and climbing anywhere they want.

The clothes shouldn’t restrict their vision, their tail, and ear movement, so they can use their body language as much as possible.

Choose The Right Size

Cats come in different shapes and sizes, and that’s something that you need to take into account.

For example a Maine Coon and a Sphynx cat have different body types, weight, and size. Obesity can also affect how tight or loose a piece of clothing will be.

That’s why you need to look for clothes that are the right size and fit for your cat that are not going to feel uncomfortable or restricting in any sort of way.

Keep It Simple

The fewer accessories, the cat shirt, sweater, or costume has the better.

It’s best to avoid capes, wings, and hoods that can obscure their vision, or produce strange sounds.

Remember to also smell the clothing before introducing it to your cat. Any strong scents can be off-putting and make your kitty anxious.

Observe Their Reaction

Before dressing up your cat, you should familiarize them with their new clothes. You can do that by leaving the piece of clothing on the cat bed or the place where your cat enjoys spending most of their time.

Let your kitty rub their scent on the item so the shirt or sweater is no longer a foreign object.

Wait for a moment when your kitty is relaxed and happy. Be gentle as you dress your kitty and be aware of their reaction. If you’re struggling to put it on, and your cat is becoming agitated and aggressive then stop and remove the outfit.

If you successfully managed to dress your cat up, then keep a watchful eye and never leave them unattended.

Your cat might seem calm for the first few minutes, but they might become agitated throughout the day.

I’d also suggest you talked to the vet, and if your cat is reacting badly to clothes perhaps the Elizabethan Color will work better.

Use Rewards

It’s important that you make this experience as positive as it can be.

You can use treats while you’re dressing them up and when you’re done you can distract them by playing with them using their favorite toy.

This way your kitty instead of falling over will realize that the clothes don’t actually restrict their movement. But if you notice that they can’t move properly then this can be a sign that the piece of clothing is actually restricting, or it’s not for them.

When removing your cat’s clothes use treats, pet them, and use a gentle tone to show them how well they’re doing.

Don’t Punish Them

If your cat hates putting on clothes you might receive a few scratches, they might fall over or give you an overall rude behavior.

This can be frustrating especially if it’s the first time you see your fur-baby react this way.

In moments like these, it’s important that you keep your cool.

If you wanted to dress up your cat to take cute pictures and they reacted aggressively let them be. If on the other hand, they need to be restricted because of a medical or behavioral condition then choose the right timing, use rewards, and praise, or ask your vet to help you out.

Cats weren’t meant to wear clothes and they shouldn’t have to be punished for something that’s ultimately unnatural for them.

Do Cats Need Winter Clothes?

As we’ve already discussed above, animals like cats have a perfectly well-functioning system that maintains their body temperature.

During the winter they actually get a thick winter coat that keeps them warm, and during the warm months, they shed most of it to keep cool.

That’s why sweaters and shirts during the winter can cause overheating even in short-haired breeds.

The only cats that may benefit from a winter sweater are hairless breeds like the Sphynx, but only if they actually enjoy wearing clothes. Otherwise, clothes are just going to affect their mental wellbeing, and in turn, long-term stress can cause health issues.

So, Is Putting Clothes On Cats Bad?

For cats, dogs and most animals being naked is natural. Some cats will show no objection to wearing a sweater or a cute shirt now and again, and if you’re always there to keep an eye on them then dressing your cat up isn’t necessarily bad.

Cats that have medical issues and need clothes to protect them can also benefit from this unnatural state of being dressed up.

But at the end of the day, if you have a healthy kitty then clothing is simply excessive, after all, most cat clothes aren’t here to make the cat happy but the owner. As responsible cat owners, I think we need to put our kitties first.

Closing Thoughts

Clothes or no clothes?

This is the real dilemma, but if your kitty could talk what do you think their answer would be? Would they fall over dramatically and tell you, “Am I a joke to you mother?”

But in all seriousness, I think if you want your kitty to be stress-free and happy then let them roam around your house in their natural naked state. Isn’t their fur fabulous enough?

Have you ever dressed up your kitty in fancy clothes and did they react by falling over?