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Do Dogs Need Sweaters in Winter?
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Small dogs, those with short fur, and senior pups may benefit from sweaters in the winter to keep them warm. When the weather drops below freezing, being outside for long periods is dangerous for people and pets. Some dogs may try to avoid spending too much time outdoors when it snows, while others can easily get too cold too quickly, putting them at risk of frostbite and hypothermia.
Do dogs need sweaters in winter? While some dogs benefit from sweaters and the additional insulation, others don't need them. As a pet parent, it's up to you to determine when it's too cold for your dog to go outside without an additional layer. If you're wondering, "Do dogs need sweaters in the cold?" you might be surprised that many dogs benefit from a coat or sweater during winter. This article will help determine if your pup needs a sweater during cold weather.
- Factors That Influence Whether Your Dog Needs A Sweater
- Pros & Cons Of Winter Dog Coats
- How To Choose A Sweater For Your Dog
- Keeping Your Dog Safe In Winter Apparel
- Dog Sweaters: FAQs
- Final Notes
Factors That Influence Whether Your Dog Needs A Sweater
As we've mentioned, some dogs have shorter fur than others, which means they have less insulation than those with thicker, double coats. If you're wondering, "Does my dog need a sweater?" consider these factors that may influence your decision:
Regardless of coat thickness, small dogs don't retain enough body heat to stay warm in below-freezing temperatures.1 Additionally, small dogs with thin coats, like Chihuahuas, Miniature Pinschers, and Dachshunds, are even more susceptible to the cold.
Since a dog's breed typically determines its size and coat type, certain breeds are more tolerant to the cold than others. For example, short-haired, miniature, small, and medium-sized dog breeds don't retain their body heat to stay warm in cold weather. Additionally, dogs that sit low to the ground can brush against snow and ice, while those with lean bodies don't have enough body fat to keep them warm.1
Conversely, some dogs tolerate winter weather better, such as Northern breeds with thick, double coats designed to keep them warm.1 These include Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, and Bernese Mountain Dogs.
Dogs with thick and double coats are more comfortable in cold weather. However, many dogs have short coats that don't allow them to retain their body heat, which can leave them more exposed to cold weather and conditions like frostbite and hypothermia. Therefore, short-haired breeds, such as Chihuahuas, French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, and even large breeds like Whippets and Greyhounds1, will need extra protection from the cold air.
Perhaps more important than the weather outside is the windchill and real-feel temperature, both of which can be dangerous to pets. Wind chill refers to heat loss of exposed skin caused by combined wind and cold. In the winter, you might realize that cold temperatures are more tolerable when there's no wind. This additional coldness brought on by the wind can make a cold day even colder and more uncomfortable for people and pets.
Even though your dog may have fur, they still have exposed skin on their nose, ears, and paws, which can increase their risk of frostbite and hypothermia.2 Additionally, dogs are prone to cracked paws in the winter because salt, snow, and ice can be overly drying, resulting in painful lesions that can become infected. Therefore, you should regularly check your dog's paws, especially if they begin limping or excessively licking.
As dogs age, they can't regulate their body temperature as effectively. Therefore, even dogs with thick or double coats can feel uncomfortable in cold weather.1 Additionally, some senior dogs may have health conditions that make being in the cold unbearable, including arthritis.1 These dogs are more susceptible to dangerous winter weather, which can exacerbate their symptoms.
Your dog's overall health may also affect how comfortable they are outside in the winter. Some medical conditions can impact your dog's ability to regulate their core temperature, causing them to get cold faster, especially in extreme temperatures. Regardless of age, winter weather can be more dangerous to pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and hormonal imbalances.3
Still, do dogs need winter coats? While winter coats can help keep dogs warmer in the winter, dogs are still at risk in extreme temperatures, especially if there's snow and ice on the ground. Therefore, walks should be shorter, especially for a shivering dog. Additionally, you should continue to check your dog's paws and know when they're too cold. Signs that they’re cold can include shivering, lifting their paws, or standing still.3
Pros & Cons Of Winter Dog Coats
Do sweaters keep dogs warm? Ultimately, sweaters can provide dogs with much-needed insulation to help them regulate their body temperature more effectively during cold weather. However, they're not a perfect solution to chilly temperatures; they can't prevent your dog from hypothermia or frostbite if you don't take the proper precautions outside. Pros and cons of dog winter coats and sweaters include the following:
- Warmth: Believe it or not, dogs can get colds, so staying warm in the winter is crucial. The most significant benefit of winter sweaters for dogs is insulation. A dog's winter coat will keep them warmer, like your winter coat helps you regulate your body temperature. Dogs with short fur or those who can't control their body temperatures can benefit from winter coats.
- Protection: Cold weather typically comes with snow and ice, both of which can make the temperature feel much colder outside, especially for smaller dogs who are much closer to the ground. If you get cold and wet winters, a winter sweater can help keep your dog dry, making them feel much warmer.
- Potential health hazard: Ill-fitting sweaters and coats can be dangerous for dogs. For example, a sweater that's too tight can cut off blood circulation and cause choking. Meanwhile, a sweater that's too loose can get caught on things like trees, sticks, and other outdoor objects and pose a choking hazard or trap your dog. As a general rule of thumb, a winter jacket or sweater should not be restrictive or prevent your dog from moving. However, it should also not be so large that it can get tangled.
- Overheating: Do dogs need winter coats? Again, some don't. Some breeds have thick, dense, double coats designed to keep them warm in the winter and don't need sweaters. Sweaters may cause overheating in some breeds, especially those with thick coats. Dogs bred for colder climates have natural insulation, and their coats often have waterproof properties, so they won't need sweaters in the winter. If you put a sweater on a dog with a thick coat, it can get too warm and result in dehydration.
- Uncomfortable: Some dogs tolerate clothes while others don't. In either case, sweaters and winter coats can be uncomfortable for dogs, especially indoors where the temperatures are safe. Luckily, there are different types of sweaters and coats available, so you can find one that your dog will tolerate. Additionally, owners can use positive reinforcement techniques to train their dog to better tolerate sweaters.
How To Choose A Sweater For Your Dog
Sweaters are part of winter and holiday pet safety because they can prevent dangerous cold-related health problems. However, not all dog winter apparel is made the same, so here are a few tips to help you find the right sweater or coat for your dog:
- Choose the right material: Dog coats and sweaters are made with different materials. For example, wool is a warm material used in sweaters and is water-repellant, which can help keep snow off your dog. That said, wool is not waterproof, and snow can melt through the sweater. If you get snowy winters, consider getting your dog a water-resistant coat to prevent them from getting wet.
- Measure for size: Your dog's sweater should be an appropriate size. You don't want your dog to pull off their sweater easily. You also don't want the bottom of the sweater dragging across the ground. However, your dog's sweater shouldn't be too tight because it can restrict breathing and movement, making it more challenging to regulate their temperature when spending time outside.
Keeping Your Dog Safe In Winter Apparel
Winter apparel for dogs is considered relatively safe. However, you should monitor your pet when wearing clothes because they can get snagged on items inside and outside the home. Here are a few tips to help you keep your dog safe while they're wearing a sweater or coat:
- Ensure proper fitting: As we've mentioned, an improperly fitted sweater can be dangerous to pets, so it’s important that the sweater fits snug but not too tight.
- Prevent overheating: Some dogs can overheat in sweaters, especially if they have thick coats. In most cases, your dog can wear their sweater inside, but if you keep your home warm, dogs can quickly overheat. Make sure to know the common signs of overheating, including excessive panting, rapid breathing, and increased drooling.
- Supervise your dog: Even if your pet enjoys wearing sweaters and their sweater doesn't have any additional pieces that pose a choking hazard, continue to monitor your pet inside and outside the home. Pet sweaters can snag on crates and branches outside, trapping your pet. However, supervising them will ensure you can help them if they experience any issues.
- Talk to your vet: Talking to your vet about what's best for your dog can help prevent issues caused by winter apparel. For example, if you're unsure whether a sweater is necessary for your dog, you can talk to a Dutch vet about whether their fur provides enough protection and insulation in the winter.
Dog Sweaters: FAQs
At what temperature should my dog wear a sweater?
What temperature your dog should wear a sweater depends on their health, coat length, and tolerance to the cold. However, as a general rule, dogs should wear sweaters or winter coats if the temperatures drop below 40 degrees.4
Still, you should monitor your dog because even some small dogs can tolerate cold weather during short walks. Additionally, since some dogs don't need to wear sweaters, keep an eye on your dog's cold tolerance when spending time outside to determine if clothing is appropriate for them.
How do I know if my dog needs to wear a coat?
Many dogs benefit from winter coats, especially those with short fur. If your dog is a toy or small breed, it should wear a coat when the temperature reaches below freezing. Meanwhile, seniors and puppies may benefit from a jacket in cold weather because they can't effectively regulate their body temperatures.
As a general rule of thumb, if you're cold, they're cold; if you're putting on winter boots and a big fluffy coat, your dog probably needs extra coverage and insulation.
What's the best type of sweater for dogs?
The best type of sweater for dogs depends on the weather outside and your dog's preferences. For example, some dogs may experience skin irritation with certain materials. However, in general, sweaters made of wool are soft and provide enough warmth for most dogs. Of course, sweaters can absorb moisture and get wet as the snow melts through them, so you should look for moisture-resistant materials if you get snowy or wet winters.
During cold winters, you might ask yourself, "Does my dog need a winter coat?" Many dogs benefit from winter sweaters, which provide insulation to help regulate their body temperatures. However, sweaters aren't necessary for every dog.
When in doubt, consult a Dutch vet. Dutch vets can provide winter pet tips and help you determine if your dog should wear a coat based on the types of winters in your city and your dog's health, age, size, and coat type. Help keep your pet warm, cozy, and safe all winter long with Dutch.
"Does My Dog Need a Winter Coat?" American Kennel Club, 22 Sept. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/does-dog-need-winter-coat/.
"Five Ways to Protect Pets in Winter." The Humane Society of the United States, https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/five-ways-protect-pets-winter.
"Cold Weather Animal Safety." American Veterinary Medical Association, https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/pet-owners/petcare/cold-weather-animal-safety.
Paretts, Susan. "How Long Can You Keep Your Dog Outside?" American Kennel Club, 25 May 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/how-long-can-you-keep-your-dog-outside/.