Does Your Dog Need Winter Clothes?

For some dogs, winter clothing might be more than just a fashion statement. Kelly Nelson/Shutterstock

Many dog owners enjoy dressing their pets in sweaters, coats and scarves, but canine winter gear is often more than a fashion statement.

Just as you need to bundle up when the temperature drops, your dog often does too.

How do you know if your dog needs another layer to stay healthy and warm during winter months?

Doggy, it's cold outside

Siberian husky in the snow
Breeds that come from cold climates, like Siberian huskies, can typically tolerate cold temperatures. Elizabeth Perkins [CC BY-ND 2.0]/Flickr

Dr. Louise Murray, vice president of the ASPCA Animal Hospital, says your dog will usually provide you with clues that he or she is cold.

"They might shiver, refuse to walk or move, or they may even hold one paw up above the ground to express their dissatisfaction with being outside in the wintry weather," she said.

A dog's ability to tolerate cold temperatures depends on several factors, including its health, size, breed and coat thickness.

Smaller dogs, as well as those with shorter fur — such as Chihuahuas and Italian greyhounds — are likely to get cold more quickly.

However, size isn't always a good indicator of dog's ability to tolerate cold temperatures. Pit bulls aren't a small breed, but they have thin coats and can be sensitive to winter weather.

Breeds that come from cold climates and are bred to work in snow and ice, such as Newfoundlands and Siberian huskies, can typically tolerate very cold temperatures.

"If your dog is not a winter-hardy breed, has a thin coat, or has health issues, consider using a canine coat when she heads outdoors," Murray said. "This will help retain body heat and prevent skin from getting dry and inflamed during winter walks."

A dog's routine should also be taken into consideration. If you're letting your pet outside for a few minutes, he'll likely be fine without winter gear, but if you're going for a long walk or spending a while in the outdoors, winter gear may be a necessity.

Finding the right gear

dog wearing coat and booties
You may also want to add booties to your dog's winter ensemble. kim&amy; [CC BY-ND 2.0]/Flickr

If your dog needs a sweater or coat to stay warm, ensure the garment is a good fit so that it doesn't drag, get caught on anything or prevent normal movement.

Have your dog try on the items, or measure your pet around the neck, around the largest part of its chest, and from the neck to the waist to choose the best size. The garment should fit snugly but allow freedom of movement. Look for pieces that can be easily taken off and on and that don't have zippers, buttons or other items that can be chewed or swallowed.

Booties can help protect your dog's paws from ice and snow, as well as minimize contact with painful salt crystals and poisonous chemicals from antifreeze and ice-melting agents. When it comes to selecting dog booties, look for ones that are insulated, waterproof and provide traction. Just because you have a large dog doesn't mean he'll require a large bootie, so measure the width of his paw to find the right fit.

But what about those fancy leggings?

dogs wearing walkee paws dog leggings
are stretchy dog leggings that cover your dog's paws and legs. Walkee Paws

There are also Walkee Paws stretchy dog leggings that cover your dog's feet and legs with a connector that goes over his back. The leggings keep paws dry and clean in cold, wet conditions without fitting tightly around his ankles.

If your dog isn't comfortable wearing booties or leggings, you can massage petroleum jelly or a pet-friendly paw wax into his paw pads before going outside.

"After each walk, wash and dry your pet's feet to remove ice, salt and chemicals, and check for cracks in paw pads or redness between the toes," Murray said.

Of course, owning a coat or booties won't do any good if your dog refuses to wear them. If you live in a cold climate, start training your dog to tolerate the items from an early age. Also, reward your dog with a treat or a favorite toy when he wears the items.

Even if your dog is outfitted for winter weather, Murray says you should still limit your pet's time outdoors and look for signs of frostbite or hypothermia.

Frostbitten areas may appear pale or gray in color and be painful or hard to the touch. Frostbite is most likely to occur on the nose, ears, scrotum or tail.