I will admit it. I was one of those people who would see a dog sweater on a small dog and think, “Ridiculous!”. I wondered how they were not embarrassed for themselves and for their dog.
Then, a few days ago, Michele was walking Miss T our miniature schnauzer and noticed she was shivering. Miss T had recently been to the groomer so her fur was a bit shorter than usual and it was a cold day by Houston area standards. Michele decided a dog sweater was needed to keep Miss T warm so she went out and found her a couple of ‘cute’ ones. One had a fox on it and the other a bear. Really?
I thought for sure Miss T would object but amazingly enough, she seemed to have no problem with having one put on her. In fact, she seemed both warmed and comforted by it. The shivering stopped almost immediately. And as a side benefit, she stopped constantly scratching herself which had been a problem prior to putting it on.
So I’m beginning to think that maybe dog sweaters aren’t such a bad thing after all. But how do you decide if your dog needs a sweater? Is there a certain temperature below which your dog should have a sweater on? Does it depend on the size of the dog or its breed? Can your dog overheat with a sweater on? Is your dog going to be embarrased to be seen in one? Are there other benefits besides staying warm? Is it even safe for the dog to wear one? So many questions!
Baby, It’s Cold Outside
You’ve heard the saying, “If you’re cold they’re cold” and theres a lot of truth in that statement. But there are many things that factor into deciding when it’s cold and when it’s not for dogs. Some dogs were bred for cold weather. Siberian Husky, Malamute and Saint Bernard are some that immediately come to mind. These breeds are normally okay in colder weather because they have a heavy coat. But even these dogs are susceptable to the cold if they have been raised in a warmer climate and are not used to it.
Then there’s the age and condition of your dog. Just like people, the older your dog gets, the less able it is to withstand the cold. Young puppies can also have trouble dealing with the cold. And of course, dogs with health issues may have more trouble staying warm than their healthier counterparts. Diabetes and heart problems can affect your dogs ability to stay warm just to name a couple of potential health problems.
Small Dogs Have Small Heaters
Smaller breeds often do not have the ability to keep warm in cold conditions without some help. They often do not have the heavy coat that a lot of larger breeds have. And since smaller breeds are often ‘inside dogs’ they get used to a relatively constant temperature. Chihuahuas are a great example of a small dog that would get benefit from a sweater. Because of their small size and relatively short hair they tend to get cold easily.
But don’t assume just because you have a big dog that it’s going to be warm without the help of a sweater or coat. If they are not used to colder weather or if they are a breed with a short, thin coat of fur they may get cold quickly. Greyhounds are a large breed that would definitely benefit from a sweater in colder weather.
Sweater or No Sweater?
No one knows your dog the way you do. The best way to tell if your dog might benefit from a dog sweater is to observe them when they’re outside. Are they shivering? (That would be an easy clue) Are they giving you other signs that the cold is bothering them? Some dogs will indicate they want to be held by jumping or trying to climb your legs. Others will hide under a car or seek some other place that makes them feel safe or is out of the weather. Sometimes they will act lethargic or stop moving altogether. If you notice this you should get them someplace warm immediately as they may be experiencing hypothermia. A trip to the vet or emergency room might even be in order. Dogs who are not normally verbal may bark at you while looking directly at you, letting you know that they’ve had enough and that they’re ready to go in and warm up.
Every dog is different and you know what is normal behavior for you dog. So if the weather turns cool and you’re outside with your dog, be observant. Watch for signs that he’s cold and needs some help staying warm.
Which Sweater Is Best?
Once you’ve decided a sweater or coat is appropriate what kind of dog sweater would be best? There are a multitude of sizes, fabrics and colors. Size is probably the most important criteria.
You want the sweater to fit so that it provides warmth but still allows free movement. You don’t want to have to fight with your dog to get it on and off but you don’t want it so loose that your dog can slip out of it or get it caught on something. Measure your dog’s neck and chest and the distance from the neck to the waist. That should allow you to get a sweater that fits your dog properly.
You should also consider the fabric that the sweater is made of. Wool is warm but may be itchy. A wool blend might work well. You may have to experiment with that.
As for color and pattern? Well, that’s whatever you like best or whatever embarrasses you least. I’m pretty sure your dog isn’t going to care. So find something you and/or your neighbors will enjoy. Something that makes you smile.
One Last Thing
Remember when I said, “If you’re cold, they’re cold” ? Yeah, well, the converse of that is also true. Sweaters should only be put on your dog when they’re going to be outside for an extended amount of time and it’s much colder than they’re used to. (Below 40F might be a good rule of thumb). Dogs can overheat just like people can. So if they’re only going out for a minute or when they’re in the house, no sweater. They’ll love you for taking care of them.
So To Recap
Some dogs get cold when they need to go out and it’s cold outside, especially small dogs, puppies and older dogs. If you decide to get a dog sweater for your dog be sure you measure and get the right size. And only use it when your dog is going to be outside, in cold weather, for an extended period of time. Take it off when they’re in the house. You don’t want them to overheat.
Okay, I think that about does it. You’re all set.