Does your dog really need a sweater?
How to outfit your furry friend when the weather outside is frightful
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Dogs in clothes. It’s a topic that’s surprisingly divisive, among dog owners and non-owners alike. I used to fall in the ‘no way’ camp: While I appreciated a ridiculous pet Halloween costume, I found the concept of enrobing an already-fur-covered creature, well, kind of ridiculous.
Then I moved my own fur-covered creature from the Caribbean, where he was born, to New York City. Despite his natural coat, my dog, Gus, got cold during the winter months. We’re talking shivering-and-trembling kind of cold, any time he was outside for more than five minutes in temps below 60.
So, I crocheted him a sweater.
Then I bought him several more. And a coat. Ok, more than one coat. And coordinating Christmas pajamas from Hanna Andersson. (Seriously—I joked he needed his own drawer. Then I gave him one.)
After the initial getting-used-to-it period, he seemed to be happier (I think?) on our cool-weather walks. Or at least appeared to shiver less. Was I crazy? Did my dog really need a sweater?
Do dogs need sweaters?
To find out the answer, I turned to the experts at the ASPCA for advice—if ever there were an instance of cruelty to animals, surely it's exposure to cruel winter weather.
“Some dogs will benefit from a sweater or coat and/or booties when going outside in the winter [to] help retain body heat and prevent skin from getting dry or inflamed,” says Dr. Hyunmin Kim, DVM, veterinary staff manager of community medicine at the ASPCA. “For many dogs, this is regulation winter wear.”
The pups most susceptible to lower temperatures are ones with short hair, who are smaller or thinner, who are young or elderly or, simply, who look miserable. “When your dog is cold, they may tuck their tail between their legs and tremble, shiver, or shake,” Kim says.
Find clothes that fit
Unless you’re dedicated (crazy?) enough to create a sweater to fit your dog’s exact proportions, you’ll have to find something ready-made. Study the size charts and measure your dog carefully—in my dog-clothes-buying experience, the chest measurement is most important, followed by the length—and inspect the fit once you have it on. “A jacket that doesn’t fit properly may be uncomfortable and may cause irritation to the dog’s skin,” Kim says. “The sweater or coat should never restrict your pet’s movement, hearing, or ability to breathe or bark.”
Assess the annoyance factor
Not all pups are as accepting of clothing as my uber-tolerant Gus, who himself has some peculiarities—he won’t walk in anything that has sleeves, for example. While you won’t know how well your pet tolerates clothing until you dress them, you should be able to plan for common scenarios you’ll run into on your walks. Will you be able to toss that sweater in the wash if your dog decides to roll around in the mud? Read tags to ensure items are machine washable. Does the cut allow your pup to, well, take care of business while wearing it? This is especially a consideration with male dogs—I've had to fold over and pin back the underside of Gus's coats. Also, is it compatible with your usual leash and harness? Some coats have clips built in, but they may not be strong enough to handle a larger or pulling pup. I sometimes have to adjust the straps of Gus’s harness to fit it over bulky clothing. Finally, make sure there’s nothing on the outerwear that could be chewed off (choking hazard) or might catch on something as your dog romps around.
Do a trial run
Put your pup in the outerwear indoors first—treats as rewards go far here, especially after you maneuver their legs into place—and let them get used to how it feels to be dressed up before exposing them to the elements of cold and snow. “If your pet is showing signs of distress, it’s best to keep them out of a sweater or coat and limit time outdoors,” suggests Kim. “Instead, keep them cozy inside with a warm blanket in their beds.” And, really, doesn’t that sound nicer anyway?
Consider this winter gear for your pet
Dog clothes shopping can be hit or miss. Here's the stuff that's still in rotation in Gus's winter wardrobe and is worth a try with your own pooch.
An easy-on, all-weather coat
This step-in jacket zips up the back—easier and more secure, with better belly coverage, than ones that fasten on the underside. It's lightweight, water-resistant (not waterproof), and dries crazy-fast if it happens to get wet. It's not all that thick, so for very cold weather, it's smart to layer up (see below). Be aware of the weirdo sizing, though: 18-pound, 19-inch-long Gus wears an XXL. Still, it's excellent for the price if it fits your pup.
A fleece that's great alone or for layering
This over-the-head fleece from Gooby is a little more challenging to get on, but the large armholes help—Gus has learned to pick up each front paw as we get him situated. Once in place, the little top is cute and comfy and works great for cool fall weather or as a layer under a coat in sub-zero temps. It also washes beautifully and comes in a slew of colors. Unfortunately, it's only available for small dogs—Gus is in a size large. Also, I don't trust the flimsy leash ring.
An ugly Christmas sweater because, why not?
Once you've leaned into the whole dressing-your-dog thing, this is only the next logical step. I got Gus's Reindeer sweater a few years ago at TJ Maxx, a great place to shop for pet gear in general, if you don't mind sifting through it. Chewy also has a fabulous selection of equally hideous/adorable knits. A word of caution: Sweaters like Gus's with appliques and embellishments aren't usually machine washable, so shouldn't be worn outside when the weather is sloppy.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.