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Does my dog need to wear a sweater or jacket in winter?

Dr. Glenn Adcock  |  Jan 2, 2019
Does my dog need to wear a sweater or jacket in winter?

As the temperatures get colder, you’re having to put on more layers to take your dog for a walk. But should you be putting layers on the dog as well? While dog sweaters and jackets may look adorable, do dogs really need to wear them when it’s cold or wet outside? Turns out the answer is like most in the veterinary world: it depends on the dog.


What kinds of dogs need sweaters or winter jackets?

Some kinds of dogs need help staying warm in winter, while others do not. The type of dogs who are happier and healthier in warm gear include:

  • Small breeds. Tiny dogs often need more help regulating their body temperature. If you have a toy breed or very small dog, add a sweater.
  • Short haired dogs, or dogs whose hair you keep short. If your dogs naturally have very short or thin hair, a sweater will help them stay comfortable. Similarly, if you have a dog who would normally have long hair, but you’ve chosen to clip it short, help your dog stay warm with a jacket or sweater.
  • Sick, old or very young dogs. Any dog whose immune system may be weak would benefit from extra warmth. These dogs needing more care include senior dogs, young puppies, and any dog with an illness.
  • Dogs who will be outside for a long time. If your dog will be outside for longer than just a walk, make him more comfortable with a jacket. Just like with humans, continued exposure to the elements can cause skin and other health problems, so bundle up dogs who will face the elements for long hours.

If you have a larger dog, a dog with thick hair or fur, or a dog who just trots outside briefly to use the bathroom, then you don’t need to bother with winter gear. On the other hand, if you keep a chilly home or spend a lot of time outdoors, consider leaving a sweater or jacket on your small, thin-haired dogs even when they’re inside.

How do I find a good sweater or jacket for my dog?

Any clothing you put on a dog must fit well – not too tight, but snug enough to provide warmth. Your dog may pull at or tear up loose-fitting clothing. Measure your dog before buying anything online.

You should also check the materials: buy for your dog the same as you would for yourself, avoiding itchy fabrics. Wool and blends often work best. For many situations, it’s better to get the waterproof version of a jacket so your dog can be truly protected in all kinds of weather. And thanks to modern technology, you can find great jackets that aren’t overly bulky or uncomfortable.

No matter what you buy, it won’t work if your dog won’t wear it. You may need to try on a few different options before having one your dog likes. Most importantly, make sure your dog can move comfortably and doesn’t freak out (or go stiff) when dressed. Sometimes, this means practicing with the clothes indoors a few times before going out; other times, this might mean abandoning the project and opting for shorter walks.

Does my dog need to wear booties?

Determining whether or not your dog needs to wear boots in winter is, unlike sweaters or jackets, not about the breed at all. Boots should be worn by any dogs who may be exposed to harsh winter ground conditions. This may include the need to walk on ice or walk through lots of snow. Most dogs’ paws simply aren’t made to withstand too much exposure to freezing cold. Also important: if your local streets use salt or chemicals to reduce ice (such as antifreeze), then definitely put your dog in booties. These melting chemicals can damage tender paws.

If your dog just won’t wear the booties, then try using a dog-safe paw protecting cream or wax. And after every walk outside, rinse off your dog’s paws with warm water or a wet washcloth. You may also need to apply dog-safe lotion to relieve cracked or dry paws.

So to answer our original question – yes, many dogs do need winter gear. But thankfully South Carolina isn’t too cold or snowy of a place, so you may be fine without ever buying your dog a sweater wardrobe. But we certainly won’t stop you from shopping…


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