At 7 a.m. in L.A. today, the mercury was struggling to reach 42° F. As we sat at our local Starbucks waiting for our dog-walking friends to arrive, I realized Fido was shivering. It raised the question of how do you know when it’s time to wear a dog sweater?
If Fido were a Samoyed, had a double coat or stocky legs, it would be no problem. But he’s got long, thin legs and a short, single-layered coat. He’s also 12 years old, has an underactive thyroid and suffers from intermittent arthritis. These are all good reasons to give him an extra layer of warmth.
A dog sweater isn’t just for outdoors either. Toy breeds, hairless or short-haired dogs, dogs like poodles that have cropped hair over parts of their bodies and dogs that have certain conditions like Cushing’s disease or hypothyrodism may need to wear a sweater or jacket even indoors.
Here are a few tips for getting the right sweater for your dog:
- What is it made of? Wool is warm and can keep a dog warm even when wet with rain or snow. But it should be handwashed and air-dried. More and more washable wool is available today, so check care instructions. Blends of washable wool and acrylic may provide good warmth and easy care.
- How does it fit? A good dog sweater won’t drag or catch on shrubs when the dog is sniffing around or exploring. It shouldn’t be so tight the dog can’t breathe or move easily. The dog’s lower belly should be exposed so that he can easily lift a leg without peeing on the sweater. The key measurements to get are 1) around the base of the neck, 2) around the deepest part of the dog’s chest, and 3) the length of the back from the base of the neck to the back legs. It’s helpful to have the dog with you at the store so you can be sure of the fit before you buy the sweater.
- How is it designed? Can you get it on and off the dog easily? If your dog uses a harness, will it fit over the sweater — or does the sweater have a hole so the leash can be attached to the harness through the sweater? Does the neck of the sweater interfere with the dog’s collar or leash? If the dog is going to wear it indoors, can he easily curl up in it? Are there big collars or hoods that might make it hard for the dog to see what’s around him?
- Are there any decorations that could be chewed on or swallowed? Buttons, tags on zipper pulls, stitched on designs all invite a dog to come chew on them.
Dogs have existed for millennia without wearing clothes. Before they became indoor pets, however, they had freedom to run — or stay curled up in a den when it was cold.
Let your dog give you the cues about when he needs a dog sweater. If she shivers in 40° to 50° F weather, a sweater or coat may make her more comfortable. It’s definitely the way to go if your dog is older, has health issues or short or thin hair.