Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
It can be fun to choose cute winter wear for your dog (and we love seeing the adorable sweaters on dogs coming into the clinic!). But does your dog really need winter clothing? It depends.
Dogs do not all have the same tolerance for low temperatures. Dogs in the same household might have completely different attitudes about going outdoors in winter, so pay attention to your dog’s preferences and use common sense.
Which Dogs Need Winter Clothing?
Outdoor temperature, weather conditions, length of time outdoors, and level of activity (a leisurely stroll around the block versus a 5-mile run) all affect a dog’s need for extra protection. Also take the following dog-specific factors into account.
Type of Fur
Some dogs’ natural coats are like a puffer jacket; others are more akin to a thin T-shirt. The length of the hair isn’t the only consideration. Dogs with thick undercoats, or double coats, are better protected against the cold than those with single coats. Golden retrievers and Maltese both have long hair, but goldens stay warmer—and shed a lot more—because of their double coat. Goldens are also bigger than Maltese, which brings us to the next point.
Size of the Dog
In general, small dogs like Chihuahuas and toy poodles don’t handle cold weather as well as large dogs like retrievers and shepherds. This partly depends on the individual dog, but little dogs lose heat more easily than big dogs because their body surface area is higher relative to their weight.
Age and Health Status
Young puppies, senior dogs, and dogs with health problems (arthritis, endocrine disorders like hypothyroidism, and so forth) have a harder time maintaining their body temperature in cold weather than healthy adult dogs do.
Breeds that were developed to live in cold climates (like Newfoundlands and Bernese mountain dogs) are obviously better equipped for winter weather than greyhounds and the hairless breeds. Some breeds (and individual dogs) are just better acclimated to cold weather than others.
Signs That Your Dog Needs a Coat
Watch your dog for signs of discomfort in the cold:
If your dog has significant shivering or reluctance to move that doesn’t improve soon after coming inside to warm up, take him to a veterinary clinic to be checked for hypothermia. (Hypothermia is unlikely to happen in dogs in the Charlotte area who are outdoors under direct supervision for a reasonable length of time. It can affect dogs left outside in cold weather without adequate shelter.) Clothing is not a substitute for warm shelter.
Which Dogs Shouldn’t Wear Clothes?
Dogs can overheat if they’re wearing a coat they don’t need. There’s a reason sled dogs don’t wear parkas while they’re running the Iditarod. These dogs don’t need to be wearing clothes:
How to Choose Dog Clothing
Sweaters, jackets, and coats should fit closely enough not to drag on the ground or become tangled around the dog’s legs. However, clothing shouldn’t be tight around the neck or restrict the dog’s movement. Clothing should have no loose hanging bits that could get snagged on something or that the dog might chew. Dog clothing shouldn’t get in the way of urination and defecation (most dog coats are open under the belly and tail). Choose materials that are appropriate for the weather and easy to clean. And if your dog hates his clothes, don’t force the issue. Introduce new clothing gradually and try different materials and fits if you need to.
See more cold weather safety tips here: https://www.mallardcreekvet.com/dr-waldens-blog/cold-weather-safety-for-pets.
Photo by Rebecca Johnson, DVM
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM