Outfitting Your Dog for Winter

Colder weather means your dog may need a few extra accessories before going outside for walks and bathroom breaks. And after visiting the great outdoors, a little extra care can make your dog more comfortable, too.

Who needs a sweater?

Your natural tendency may be to assume that a dog, covered in fur, would have no need for a sweater or coat. However, many breeds don't have enough fur to truly keep them warm. The factor that's important to consider is the amount of warm air the fur traps next to the dog's skin. The double coat of fur some breeds have is designed specifically for that purpose.

Dog wearing winter parka and boots
Depending on weather, your dog may need a parka and boots to stay warm outside.

For example, a German Shepherd has both an undercoat and an overcoat of fur. Warm air is trapped between the two, which is what keeps the dog warm in the winter. On the other hand, a Chihuahua has only one coat, and a thin one at that, so a sweater may be a necessity.

Choosing the perfect dog sweater

The first decision you will need to make when shopping for a sweater or coat is the size you will need. Most dog clothing comes in sizes from XX-Small to X-Large. To find out which one might best fit your dog, measure from the base of the neck to the base of the tail. Next, measure your dog's girth, or how big around he is at the widest part of the body. For some dogs, this will be the chest; for others it will be the tummy.

Most clothing companies will indicate a range of inches for each size, such as

Size Length Girth
XX-Small 4 - 6 inches 12 inches
X-Small 8 - 10 inches 14 inches

If your dog falls between sizes, round up. It's much better to have loose-fitting clothing than tight clothing.

Armed with your size information, you are ready to look at different styles of clothes. You can buy hoodies, raincoats, shearling coats, or the more conventional sweater. Depending on the climate where you live, you may need more than one outfit for your dog.

If you have four definite, distinct seasons, you may need four different coats. Yes, four. Summer-weight coats can help keep your dog cool and prevent sunburn. Before you put a lot of money into your dog's wardrobe, you may want to start with just one inexpensive outfit to see if your dog will even wear a coat or sweater. Some dogs chew them to pieces; others think they're the best thing since bacon.

The two main styles of outerwear are those that slide over your dogs head and those that buckle around the body. Take into account how patient your dog is as you make your choice. Some dogs will not tolerate having something pulled over their head, and then having their paws stuffed into the sleeves. For those dogs, it may be easier to just set the coat on the dog's back, then reach under and fasten the strap(s) around the mid-section.

Coats and sweaters also may come with or without hoods. It may be just a style choice, or your dog may be one who would just as soon have his head covered as not.

Boots for dogs

There are a couple of reasons your dog may need boots. For dogs who spend any amount of time outdoors in the winter, frostbite can be a concern. Over-exposure to temperatures at or below freezing can cause tissue injury to a dog's toes. In extreme cases, the tissue may even die. Usually, if the dog's body is warm, blood flow to the toes will be sufficient to keep frostbite at bay. However, if your dog gets too cold, a protective mechanism kicks in to conserve heat at the body's core by constricting the blood vessels in the extremities. Small dogs, as well as those with short hair, are most at risk.

Even if your dog doesn't spend a lot of time outdoors in the winter, you might want to provide boots to protect the dog from the harsh chemicals used to de-ice sidewalks and driveways. These chemicals can burn your dog's sensitive footpads, and can even poison your dog if the animal licks his paws to relieve the burning.

Boots may also be helpful in the summer to prevent burned feet from hot asphalt and throughout all four seasons if you take your dog into areas where they might cut their feet on rocks, briars, cactus, or other road hazards.

Dog boots actually look a lot like mittens, with either a knit cuff or a Velcro strap that wraps around the dogs leg to hold them up. Boots usually come in three different sizes: small, medium, and large, but there doesn't seem to be any consistency between manufacturers on exactly what these sizes mean. You might buy your first set of boots from someplace where you can take your dog with you to try them on first.

What if my dog doesn't like his new clothes?

Putting on clothes may be a very new experience for your dog, and it may not be pleasant at first. You will want to try out the clothes inside the house, under supervision at first to make sure your dog doesn't tear up your new purchases. Put the dog's clothes on for just a few minutes at first if he or she doesn't seem to appreciate your thoughtfulness. When you take the clothes off, give the dog a treat. Go for a little longer each day, and your dog will soon come to associate the clothing with the treats and will be more than happy to get dressed up.

Cleaning your dog's feet after outdoor exposure

Whether you're concerned about ice balls between your dog's toes, or harsh chemicals that may coat the dog's feet, you will want to spend some time cleaning your dog's feet if you decide not to provide boots. This is particularly important if your dog has long fur around the feet that can trap things between the toes.

Use a warm, wet washcloth and wipe off the pad surfaces, as well as the area between the pads and toes. If necessary, rinse the cloth after each foot so that the fourth paw is as clean as the first.

While you are cleaning, you can also inspect the pads for any damage from rough terrain and make sure nothing is stuck in the dog's feet such as briars or thorns.


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