Does your dog need a sweater?
You might be surprised at how often the answer is yes.
We’re used to seeing the smaller breeds turned out fashionably in jackets and sweaters. But the truth is that many dogs don’t just wear those sweaters for fashion — they need some help keeping warm.
Here are 2 types of dogs that may benefit from a sweater in cold weather:
- Dogs with thin coats: A dog’s coat is designed to protect the dog, but some breeds were never meant for harsh winter climates. If your dog has a short or thin coat, think about getting a sweater to protect against the cold weather.
- Smaller dogs: Tiny breeds especially may need a little help keeping warm, explains Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. “Sweaters have a place, especially for small dogs that pick up the chill radiating from the frozen ground on a cold day.”
Greyhounds, whippets and chihuahuas are examples of breeds that likely need a little help keeping warm in colder climates and during winter because of their thin coats, and, in the Chihuahua’s case, small size.
“You have to know your dog, and you have to know your breed,” says Betsie Peter of New Hampshire, who has 2 Chihuahuas and a Russell terrier. “Even though Jack [the Russell terrier] has more fur than the other dogs, he doesn’t have a second layer of fur, so he gets cold fast.”
Any dog, regardless of breed, can develop symptoms of hypothermia.
If you live in an area that experiences harsh winters, having a way to protect your dog is a must. Get a sweater and a jacket, and don’t forget to protect those paws. Paws can crack, bleed or get frostbite. Dogs may hate booties, but they are a must if the weather is extremely cold outside.
“Coats may be optional for dogs, but boots are essential,” writes Dr. Marty Becker, DVM, in the book Fitness Unleashed!, co-written by Dr. Robert Kushner, MD. Boots will “keep salt, ice chips and mud from melting snow from getting between your dog’s paw pads.”
“At the very least,” says Dr. Becker, “boots will help keep your floors clean … but more importantly, they’ll prevent skin irritations and infections on your dog’s sensitive paws.”
Signs that your dog is experiencing hypothermia:
- Anxious behavior
- Slows down or stops moving
- Starts trying to burrow in somewhere
Sweater or no, get your dog inside immediately to get warm. Just like people, dogs can die from exposure, and frostbite is a real danger in these situations.
Some dogs, such as search and rescue dogs or law enforcement dogs, are required to be outdoors in inclement weather. If you know your dog will be exposed to the elements for an extended time, have a sweater, jacket or blanket available to help keep him warm.
For extended time outdoors, consider a jacket over a sweater. Wool “won’t hold up to even one long winter and the sludge that comes with it,” says Dr. Becker, who recommends Lycra bodysuits that “stretch, breathe, keep them warm, protect from snow, ice and salt, and go straight into the washing machine.”
Limit Your Dog’s Exposure to the Cold
If you have a dog who struggles for warmth in the cold, look for ways to minimize his exposure. Going for walks may not be an option, even if your dog is properly outfitted.
“Last winter,” says Betsie Peter, “we used to shovel paths in the snow so they could go out, do their business and then come right back in. We had jackets and sweaters for all 3 dogs. Here in New Hampshire, we had days that the temperature was well below zero. On those days, we would set out pee pads and keep the dogs indoors.”
When the weather is very cold — just as when it is hot — regardless of whether your dog has a sweater or jacket, never leave him in a car. She can freeze to death just as easily as she can die of heatstroke.
Check out these fashionable dog sweaters:
Don’t Go Overboard
“Believe us when we tell you that dogs really do not care about the color or style you dress him in,” writes PetMD.
Dr. Elliott agrees. “Always be respectful of the animal,” she says, “and don’t make them wear anything undignified.”