Do Any Dogs Really Need Sweaters or Coats?

Dachshund Wearing Sweater
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Q. How do I know if my dog needs a sweater or coat this winter?

A. I feel safe in saying that if you have a healthy, young Siberian Husky or Alaskan Malamute who’s acclimated to the cold and has the glorious coat common in the Northern breeds, you likely won’t have to invest in canine clothing for walks in the snow. In general, there are three kinds of dogs who benefit from the insulation provided by a sweater or coat, as well as the protection afforded by life as a pampered house pet:

  • Small dogs
  • Dogs who are elderly, chronically ill or both
  • Greyhounds, Whippets and dogs of a similar thin body type, especially those with short fur

What these dogs have in common is that they have a more difficult time generating and retaining enough body heat on their own. For these dogs, a little help keeping dry and warm is always a good thing. Though protection from the elements is the biggest reason to put clothes on dogs headed outside, it doesn't hurt to leave a sweater on these dogs inside if you're keeping the heat down to save energy and money.

At our house, our two little Heinz 57s, Quixote and Quora, get jackets when they go out in the snow, as do our two thin-coated grand Pugs, Bruce and Willy. Our big dogs, Gracie (Labrador Retriever-Pit Bull mix) and Shakira (Golden Retriever), do just fine without sweaters or coats. In fact, they love the snow.

If you have a dog with arthritis, protective clothing is just one thing you can do to make winters more comfortable. Pet-safe heated orthopedic beds are a great idea; you can also talk to your veterinarian about nutraceuticals, such as glucosamine and omega-3 oils that are clinically proven to ease joint pain. Other dogs may benefit additionally from the use of pain-control medication, typically nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Even if your dog doesn’t need a coat, having one certainly won’t hurt him. I know many people who put slickers on their pets before taking a walk in the rain or snow because it saves them the trouble of cleaning a wet dog at the door before coming inside, for example. Boots help keep things neater, too, and where de-icing solutions are used, they can protect your pet from licking toxic chemicals off his paws.

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