When the temperatures drop outside, us humans don winter jackets, hats, scarves, mittens and many extra layers to stay toasty warm. We wouldn’t think to leave our house without these items in order to brave the harsh winds and snow outside.
Because we get so dressed up to go outside, many pet owners wonder if they should be getting their dogs and cats sweaters, booties and other protective gear to go on walks or travel in the cold, too. But is this sort of protection necessary?
The dangers of the cold
Cold weather can have serious consequences for your pet’s health. Harsh winds, snow and ice can wreak havoc on their paws, drying them out and leading to cracking and bleeding that makes it painful to walk. Additionally, cold, dry air can dry out their skin, which might become flaky and itchy and altogether a nuisance for your pet to deal with.
If left outside in the cold for too long, your pet might even get frostbite on its feet or limbs. And, in the worst possible scenario, dogs and cats can experience hypothermia if they can’t find shelter or a way to warm up.
Every pet is different
There’s no hard-and-fast rule that can tell you if your pet needs winter protective gear. In theory, your pet’s fur and internal layers of fat is designed to insulate it from the cold. These natural layers are often enough to keep your four-legged friend warm if running outside to use the bathroom.
Whether your pet requires added protection depends on a number of factors, including its amount of hair, body weight, activity level and general health.
Sweaters and jackets
Long-haired pets tend to fare well in winter and have thick, long coats designed to insulate them from the cold. These types of cats and dogs generally don’t need a sweater or body protection from the cold. In fact, putting a jacket on long-haired pets may actually cause overheating, which is also not good for your pet’s health.
Short-haired pets are more likely to get cold faster when outside in winter. Because their hair is so short, there isn’t as much insulation on their bodies, and they will feel a chill much more easily. Short-haired pets may need a sweater when going on walks outside.
Pets with health problems, such as diabetes, thyroid issues and Cushing’s disease, may also have a hard time regulating their body temperature and will not be able to withstand the cold like other pets can. If you find that your cat or dog has trouble out in the cold and has a health issue, you may want to get them a sweater or vest.
If you’re getting a sweater or coat for your pet, look for one that covers the neck to the tail and wraps underneath to cover the belly, as well.
Dogs, in particular, have it rough in winter because of the effect cold weather and ice can have on their paws after walks. If your dog shows signs of not liking the feeling of walking on snow and ice, or if it displays discomfort due to paw injuries like drying and cracking, get it a pair of dog booties to wear on walks.
Whether your dog should wear boots cannot really be determined by its size or hair length. Any type of dog can—and should—wear booties if it has trouble walking in the cold or is experiencing paw pad problems due to ice and salt.
Don’t force it
For some dogs, wearing booties or sweater can be a frustrating experience. Many dogs don’t like the way the protective clothing feels on their bodies and will try to get it off. If this happens, take it off your pet—don’t force them to continue to wear it. If you do, you may distress your dog more and prevent it from ever getting used to the item.
Instead, try letting your dog become more comfortable with the clothing over time. Get your scent on it and try putting it on for short periods of time. Over time, there’s a good chance your pet will get used to the clothing and not be bothered by it anymore.
Additionally, make sure your pet’s clothing fits properly. If the sweater or booties are too tight, they are sure to irritate your pet and may even affect its ability to move around. If the items are too large, they may also inhibit your dog’s movement, and they won’t be very good at insulating your pet. Measure your pet and know its weight to find properly-fitting clothes for it to sport all winter long.