Sweater weather for pets – when does outwear move from accessory to necessity?

For many of us, it’s our favorite time of year. The air gets crisper, the leaves start to drop, and we’ve finally traded those skin-baring shorts and tanks for chunky knits and cozy cardigans. But what about our trusted companions?

Nothing makes a dreary day brighter than seeing a dapper Frenchie out for a stroll in a plaid jacket or a waddling Dachshund in a Fair Isle sweater. Are such accessories functional and necessary or pure fashion folly?

Every animal is unique

Just like humans, pets have a variable tolerance for the elements depending on age, climate, body composition and more. Every dog needs to be considered individually when determining if additional layers are necessary. These characteristics can make canines more susceptible to feeling cold:

  • Hair: Dogs with short hair and/or thin coats, or thicker hair that’s kept cropped (such as poodles) are more likely to feel the cold.
  • Body type: Tiny Chihuahuas and lanky Greyhounds will feel the wind chill thanks to their small statures and thin builds, respectively.
  • Age: Older dogs may have weaker immune systems.
  • Medical conditions: Pets with Cushing’s disease, diabetes, heart or kidney disease may have trouble regulating body temperature.

Activity matters, too

Experts say Spot’s quick bathroom break and short walks around the block probably don’t warrant additional clothing, as movement will help keep him warm. However, make sure you’re paying attention to where your pet is putting his paws. Snow and icy water splashing onto a dog’s coat can make him cold quickly.

Dogs that are outside but not consistently active should also wear an extra layer to conserve body heat. Remember: no pet, no matter how hearty, should be outside in sub-zero temps for an extended period of time.

What to wear

If your furry friend needs more warmth, follow these tips on selecting the right type of outerwear:

  • Material: A blend of washable wool and cotton or acrylic is insulating and easy to clean. Outdoor experts at Orivis recommend a poly-blend and a water-resistant or waterproof jacket if you live in a snowy or wet area. Fleece linings are warm and cozy, too. Be sure to keep coats dry as wet fabric can make pets colder!
  • Fit: Measure neck, chest, and neck to waist length to get a fit that is snug but not tight, not easy for the dog to pull off and doesn’t drag on the ground. Knowing your pet’s true weight can help you pick out the right size.
  • Additional parts: Beware of zippers, hooks, tags or buttons that can be chewed off or swallowed.

What about boots?

We’ve all enjoyed YouTube videos of unsuspecting canines trying to navigate the living room floor with dog booties strapped to their paws. Entertainment value aside, are they really necessary? Opinions differ, but some dogs may benefit from the extra protection if they will wear them. Aside from sled dogs running long distances, experts say booties should be used if dogs will be walking on salt (which can be toxic) or have hairy paws that collect snowballs.

If your dog won’t wear booties or you can’t find the right fit, paws should be soaked in warm water and dried upon coming inside. Trimming fur between the toes can help keep ice and snow from building up, too.

Feline fashion is a no-no

No matter how tempting it may be to clothe a kitten, cats generally should not wear sweaters or jackets. It can put a cat at risk of overheating, injury and general stress, and the cat may put up quite a fuss! Your veterinarian may recommend a sweater for hairless breeds or a covering like a T-shirt for cats that have been shaved for surgery, but those are exceptions. Keeping cats indoors and the temperature reasonable when not at home is enough to ensure their comfort and warmth.

Pay attention

Monitoring your pets in winter weather is the most important thing you can do, no matter how much winter gear they’ve acquired. Supervising pets while outdoors and being on alert for any signs of injuries and illness is vital.

Sweaters, coats, and jackets are essential to humans when the weather turns, and can be beneficial to our pets as well — with extra cuteness as a bonus. Making informed decisions about outerwear is the best way to keep pets warm, cozy, and safe all season long.

If you have any questions or concerns about winter weather and your pet’s health, always contact your veterinarian.


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