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By Paula Fitzsimmons
You wear a coat when it’s cold outside, so naturally, you may wonder if your pup should wear one, too. While some breeds need dog coats more than others, any dog can benefit from one, depending on the circumstances.
Are Dog Coats an Absolute Must-Have for Winter?
A dog probably doesn’t need a coat if she’s going outside for a short bathroom break, but if the temperatures drop to below zero, it can help, says Dr. Lisa Powell, a veterinarian with BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. “I put something on my dogs then because it’s just so cold.”
Watch your dog’s body language to determine if she needs a coat, says Dr. Susan Jeffrey, a veterinarian at Truesdell Animal Care Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.
“Some dogs will hold up their paws when they get cold and sometimes even refuse to walk. Other dogs may shiver. Some dogs may need a coat long enough to get ‘warmed up.’ An example of this is a dog who arrives at the dog park initially needing a jacket, but after a few minutes of running or playing, may not need a coat,” she says.
Which Breeds of Dogs Need Coats?
For some dog breeds, cold weather can be a challenge. Short-coated dogs, thin-coated dogs and dogs with thin body frames should wear a jacket during colder months, Dr. Jeffrey says. “These include most toy and small breeds such as Chihuahuas, Toy Poodles, Italian Greyhounds (and Whippets), Yorkshire Terriers, Chinese Cresteds and Havanese.”
Another reason why small breed dogs—and dogs with short legs, like Basset Hounds—may also benefit from coats, is “because they are so close to the ground and more likely to have their bellies or bodies in contact with snow and ice,” says Dr. Kelly Ballantyne, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist and owner of Insight Animal Behavior Services in Chicago, Illinois.
Large, shedding dogs, like Huskies and Malamutes, typically don’t need to wear coats, says Dr. Powell, who is board-certified in veterinary emergency and critical care. A dog’s size isn’t necessarily the determining factor, however.
Dog breed, size and fur length should all be considered when deciding whether to buy a dog coat, but there are other considerations as well.
“There can be a lot of individual variation in cold tolerance, which can be related to age, underlying health problems and body condition,” says Dr. Ballantyne. Check with your veterinarian for her best recommendation for your pup.
What Type of Winter Clothing Does Your Dog Need?
It depends on the dog, says Dr. Jeffrey. “For example, I have a very muscular French Bulldog who doesn't need a thick jacket, but a sweater is perfect for keeping him warm outside. A Chinese Crested, on the other hand, has little to no fur and requires a heavy jacket when going outside in the winter.”
Other small breeds, such as Shih Tzus, may only need a sweater, depending on hair length, she adds. Some dog sweater suggestions include the Chilly Dog spencer dog and cat sweater and Chilly Dog grey cable knit dog and cat sweater.
If you plan to keep your pup outside for longer periods, Dr. Jeffrey recommends coats or jackets for dogs that are made with waterproof or water-resistant material. “Lightweight insulation, such as fleece, is also helpful to help maintain warmth.”
If you pick out coats for dogs that are too bulky, it can make it difficult for a dog to walk, advises Dr. Jeffrey. “Also, avoid jackets with buttons, buckles or other small decorative pieces to avoid the possibility of ingestion and possible gastrointestinal obstruction,” she says.
Be Sure to Get the Right Fit
Fit is a critical factor for your dog’s comfort and safety.
“It is important to make sure your pet’s sweater or jacket is not too snug or too loose, as it can be dangerous for your furry friend. It is especially important to check the fit around your pet’s neck and armpit area to ensure there isn’t any rubbing or irritation,” says Kelsey Dickerson, spokesperson with the Arizona Humane Society.
To find the right fit, you’ll need to know how to measure a dog for a sweater or coat. Use a soft measuring tape (or a piece of string and a ruler) to measure your dog’s neck, chest and body length. Match these up to the size chart for the clothing, and size up if your dog is between sizes.
Experts also recommend finding a coat or jacket that’s easy for your dog to get in and out of, like the Frisco dog and cat fleece vest.
Tips to Keep Your Dog Safe
Even with a dog coat on, dogs can be prone to frostbite.
“Pet parents need to take other precautions to protect their pets from the cold weather, such as shortening walks. When the weather is below freezing, dogs are just as susceptible to frostbite as humans, and frostbite typically affects the ears, tail and paws—areas not protected by a coat,” says Dr. Ballantyne.
Dickerson also recommends watching for signs of overheating, which include excessive panting, drooling, elevated temperature and red gums. “If this happens, contact your vet immediately, as they may be signs of heatstroke.
Never leave your pet unattended while wearing a jacket or coat, and never leave your pet outside during extreme temperatures. It may also be worth looking into protective footwear for your pups for cold or hot weather to keep their sensitive paw pads protected.”
Dog boots can provide your pet’s paws with a protective layer from the snow and ice. They are also a great way to protect your pet’s feet from sidewalk salt and other deicers, which can be very harmful to paw pads. Dog booties, like Ethical Fashion extreme all weather boots and My Busy Dog water resistant reflective anti-slip dog boots, are great options for keeping your pet’s paws protected while also providing them a little extra traction in cold weather.
When dressing your pet up in their new winter fashions, make sure to keep an eye out for signs of hives or itching. Some dogs can have allergies to certain fabrics or detergents, so you will want to make sure they are comfortable and safe.
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