LOS ANGELES — Ugly sweaters aren't just a Christmas tradition for people. Cats, dogs and even guinea pigs are joining the party.
Zigzilla "Ziggy" and Chopper "Lambchop" got sweaters from PetSmart this year so they'll be ready when they get an invite to their first ugly sweater party, said the cats' owner Catie Savage of New York City.
"My non-cat lady friends definitely think I am crazy," said Savage, who handles her cats' Instagram site (@life_of_ziggy), with 43,000 followers. She says she enjoys the sweaters more than the cats do, "which makes it even funnier to me."
"PetSmart's ugly sweaters for dogs and cats are among our top five best-selling holiday apparel items so far this season," said Eran Cohen, chief customer experience officer for the pet store. "We even have ugly sweaters for guinea pigs."
Television ushered the ugly sweater in and out in the 1980s. Around the turn of the century it enjoyed a revival, starting with adults, who had parties just to celebrate the ugliness. Kids got in on the act and now pets have nosed their way in, giving owners laughs and plenty to photograph.
Ugly sweater dog events across the country this month included an ugly sweater contest for dogs at a park in Anaheim, Calif.; a dog-friendly ugly sweater 5K run and walk in National Harbor, Md.; and separate ugly sweater parties for big and little dogs hosted by Chicago Party Animals, one of the nation's largest canine clubs with 2,000 members.
You can find ready-made ugly sweaters everywhere from 99 cent stores to high-end stores, but they're an especially hot item at thrift stores — though presumably most shoppers are buying them for people, not pets.
"Our stores collect holiday sweaters year-round," said Marla Eby, marketing and community relations director for Goodwill Southern California. "Then we decorate them, adding ribbons, bows, and embellishments until they are at their gaudy best."
"Customers snap up the sweaters as soon as we bring them out on the floor," said vice president of retail operations Craig Stone. "They are so popular we can't keep them in stock."
Aimee Beltran of Virginia Beach, Va., has turned her blog (irresistiblepets.net) into an ugly sweater classroom twice, using her 6-year-old chihuahua, Chuy, as a model for the finished product.
Her advice to anyone making a pet sweater: "Have fun with it. Don't take it too seriously. Make it your own and your style. There is no right or wrong way to do it."
An ugly sweater has to celebrate Christmas. The bolder the colors, the brighter and the more stuff on it, the better — bring on the bows, snowmen, Santas, trees, buttons, stars, sequins, rickrack, felt, glitter and cotton. Sleeves can be mismatched, misshapen or missing.
But most pets — including Savage's cats — would probably like to ditch the sweaters.
"Dog vision is different than human vision and because patterns are not particularly useful to their vision, dogs probably could care less what their sweater looks like," said Dr. Bonnie Beaver, executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and a professor at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Most dogs and cats don't like wearing sweaters unless they got used to being dressed young. "Sometimes the putting on or taking off can cause static electricity, which would make the dog even more anxious the next time," Beaver said.
If a dog has grown up wearing clothes or if a dog is small and short-haired and it is cold, a sweater will be okay, but wearing one for a contest "is of no consequence to the dog, which will be focused on the scents around it and not on the real appearance of other dogs," Beaver said.
Owners love to have fun with their pets, but "most of this is a people thing," Beaver said.