Dog in Dog Bed

There’s no sweeter time than winter to snuggle in a warm bed, and that’s true for our dogs as well. Actually, since dogs spend more time sleeping — after all, few have to worry about getting to work or paying the bills — there’s a case to be made that cozy beds are even more important to dogs than they are to people.

But while most people, at least in North America, still sleep on mattresses and boxsprings, the choices aren’t so simple for dogs. In fact, dog beds include options similar to those offered for people, from familiar brands such as Serta and Tempurpedic — possibly so people who don’t want to share their beds won’t feel guilty. When it comes to dog beds, though, choices that mimic human beds are only the beginning.

How do you choose the best bed for your dog? It depends on the dog, of course. While he’s not able to speak up about his “sleep number” or his fondness for firm over plush, you can get an idea of what will suit your pooch best by evaluating his size, age and habits. Think also about what you need from a dog bed and how much you are willing and able to spend, and you’ll be able to come up with the perfect pick.

And that’s important, because even if you share your bed with your dog, there will be times when you don’t want to. If your pet has a great bed of his own, banishment won’t be so bad for either of you.

Clean House Rules

The selections in dog beds are really mind-boggling, and a scan of a trade show floor, such as at the massive Global Pet Expo, will reveal sizes, shapes and styles to fit every dog — and every décor as well. But the most important element to any dog bed can be summed up in a single word: washable.

To control odors, dirt and fleas, you absolutely must be able to wash your pet’s bed, or at least its cover, regularly (weekly or twice a month is probably ideal). Many beds for smaller dogs can go right in today’s front-load washers, which have no center agitator to get in the way. Beds for larger dogs — and certainly for giant dogs — may not fit in home machines, and the trouble and cost of using commercial ones at your neighborhood laundromat mean less-frequent washing — or no washing at all.

If your dog is too big for a bed you can wash at home, or if you do not have a front-loading washer, choose a bed with a cover that zips off and on easily for washing.

Matching the Bed to the Dog

While some double-coated dogs are probably going to prefer the coolest tile in your home over any bed — at least while they’re young — most other breeds and nearly all older dogs could use (and will certainly appreciate) some cushioning. Here are some easy options, listed from least cushy to most — plus some quick tips on how much cushion your dog really needs.

Mats: Wash-and-wear bedding for dogs on the go, mats are typically used to provide a small degree of protection from hard floors or bare crate bottoms, or to prevent damage to beds and furniture by adding a layer over the top of upholstery and bedding. Mats can also be used to extend the period between washings for pet bed covers, allowing for frequent change-outs for cleanliness, allergies (people and pets both) and parasite control. You can buy mats made for dogs (especially useful for fitting perfectly inside a crate), or pick up bath mats on sale. A mat is very handy, but it's not really a permanent solution for most dogs.

Best for: Travel or keeping other dog beds or furniture cleaner.

Hammock-type beds: These are easy to care for and easy to clean, but don't offer much in the way of padding. These elevated beds are typically made of sturdy material attached to a framework of metal, wood or PVC. Shelters and boarding kennels love hammocks because they allow dogs to get off the cold, hard floor. Those made for kennel or shelter use are typically spray-cleaned and left to air-dry. Many of these beds are very durable and will last for years with little maintenance.

Best for: Warmer climates and young dogs who don’t need much padding but are more comfortable off the floor.

Loose-fill beds: Basically a pillow, a loose-fill bed needs more attention than the others because the fillers may bunch up or break down over time, especially in less expensive beds. Polyester fiber is probably the most common fill, but you can also find cotton batting (including organic), bean-bag-type foam beads or even shredded cedar (I don't really recommend this, as some dogs are sensitive to the cedar). Don’t buy this type of bed unless you can remove the cover to launder it; washing the entire bed (even if it says it’s washable) often hastens the clumping and breakdown of the stuffing material, leaving your dog with spots that have no padding. When you do wash the covers, check the filler, and add material (available from craft stores) as needed to keep the bed plump. Some companies make these beds with inner baffles to prevent clumping, and this can really help.

Best for: The low-end beds in this category are best for warmer climates and young dogs. The high-end entries with top-quality materials and craftsmanship can hold their own with any bed, and are good choices for dogs who need padding and warmth, such as older and arthritic dogs.

Foam, egg-crate foam, memory foam and mattress beds: Some of the most expensive beds you can find are in this category, but they’re all not pricey. An egg-crate foam bed, a tried-and-true choice, can be found pretty reasonably priced in most big-box retailers. When you get into brand name bedding for big dogs, though, you should be prepared to shell out hundreds of dollars, especially if high-end design (to match high-end décor) is also part of the deal. While the relative firmness of a human-style mattress may not make them the best choice for your dog — younger dogs are usually fine with less-expensive offerings in firmer beds, and older dogs need some “give” to sink into — the introduction of memory foam really is a nifty advance. The biggest concern about any foam, however, is outgassing of potentially harmful chemicals, especially since dogs spend more time sleeping than people do. As such, it may be prudent to reserve these beds for a dog’s senior years, when their supportive properties really make a difference in quality of life.

Best for: Older or arthritic dogs.

For dogs who need more help maintaining body heat — small dogs, thin body types (such as Greyhounds), lightly coated pets, or older, chronically ill or arthritic dogs — adding a heating element to any bed will be appreciated. Make sure it’s pet-safe and UL-approved, and always follow directions for its use.

Sharing Is Good Too

Getting your dog a bed of his own doesn’t mean you have to keep him off yours. Here are two simple options that make sharing a bed with your dog more pleasant for you both.

Steps will help small dogs, long-backed ones (who are prone to back injuries and shouldn’t be jumping) or older, arthritic ones, get up and down off your bed safely. These come in plastic or wood and metal, the former with treads molded in, the latter with carpet or other material added for good traction.

A sheet or light blanket can be used to protect bedding and furniture from dirt and wear. For older dogs or “leaky” pets, look into waterproof throws for better protection.