The temperature drops, and dog owners begin to question whether their four-legged friends should wear a coat. Breed, age and type of hair all factor into whether a dog can withstand the harsh winter elements without clothing. Dogs need to venture outside often for exercise and elimination, and it's up to their humans to figure out whether they need to slip on a jacket or sweater first.
Most dogs can handle cold weather until it reaches the freezing point, or 32 degrees. However, just as some people tolerate the cold better than others, a dog's ability to withstand the cold varies from individual to individual. An owner must watch his dog for reactions to the temperature, wind, precipitation and ground conditions. Some dogs will start shivering in mildly cool weather while others will need extra protection only in the deep of winter, if even then.
Looking at a dog, you might figure that longer hair makes a coat unnecessary. What matters more than the length of fur is whether a dog has a single- or double-coat. Single-coated dogs, such as the Maltese, might have long or short hair but cannot tolerate the cold nearly as well as double-coated breeds, such as German Shepherds or Siberian Huskies. Those with double-coats would be uncomfortable, and can even overheat, if made to wear a sweater. Small toy breeds are more likely to need a coat than larger dogs.
Dogs that have difficulty making and retaining body heat might need a sweater or jacket. Along with small breeds, this includes those with short or thinning hair, such as Weimeraners, and thinly built dogs, such as Greyhounds. Sick dogs, the very young and the elderly also must be protected from the cold. Consider whether your dog has been groomed recently -- and has less natural insulation from hair -- or relocated from a warmer climate before taking him outside.
When purchasing a coat, remember that form follows function and fashion is best considered last. Plain wool can itch, as it does for us humans, and a mix of wool, acrylic or cotton will be comfortable. Fleece will keep a dog warm, but in snowy or rainy conditions the coat should be waterproof, too, to keep the dog dry. If the dog gets overheated when running, a light sweater would be better than a heavy jacket.
Brush your dog's hair to prevent tangles, or snags on zippers, and try the coat on your dog before purchasing it. The first thing to check is whether the jacket easily fits over the head. Many coats and sweaters for dogs are designed with zippers in the front or sides, so they don't have to slip over your furry friend's head. While sleeves are appropriate for the front legs, they are not necessary for the hind legs. Once it is fully on, it should fit snug and not slip a lot, but not so tight that it hinders the dog's movements. Any belts or clips must not drag on the ground or come undone easily. And for boy dogs, check out how far back the garment fastens under the belly. They have an extra body part that affects fit.
- Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images