Dog Coats 101
Many dogs do not like cold weather, usually those breeds that are small and have less fur. To make matters worse, the North American climate is not very pet-friendly. The winters are frigid and the temperatures often dip below zero. Thus, most dogs prefer to be inside the home during the winter. But unfortunately, dogs need to get their daily exercise and also take care of their bowels and bladder. Keeping the dog indoors continuously throughout winter can alter the dog’s behavior resulting in anger, frustration, isolation, and destruction of the home. So for most dogs, going outside in the winter is a must. The solution to the cold is a dog coat.
Which breed of dogs needs a coat?
Not all dogs need a jacket when they venture outside. Dogs like the Siberian Husky, Long-haired Alsatian, Malamutes, and St Bernard are already blessed with a dense coat of fur and can easily tolerate the cold. However, for many other breeds tolerating the cold can be difficult. Breeds like the Havanese, chihuahuas, Yorkshire terrier, poodle, or daschund do not tolerate the cold and need a dog jacket. However, dog size alone is not the deciding factor whether a dog coat is needed. Many large breeds of dogs like the Greyhound, Great Dane, Pit bull terriers, and the Doberman have very short hair coats that do not provide significant insulation.
What to consider when buying a dog jacket?
Today there is winter apparel for many breeds of dogs taking into consideration their age and where they reside. However, before you buy a dog coat there are some things you need to consider:
- Age of dog: In general, puppies and older dogs are more likely to feel cold and hence need a dog coat. Younger dogs who are active usually generate enough heat outdoors so that a dog coat is not needed. However, if the dog is outside for an extended period of time, then a dog coat is recommended, irrespective of the age. For example, if you are leaving your dog outside at night in the cold weather, then the least you can do is put on a dog coat.
- The health of the dog. Dogs that have a chronic health problem like arthritis, thyroid problems, cancer, or diabetes generally are frail and do not tolerate the cold. Hence, these animals can benefit from a dog coat. In addition, dogs that are acutely ill or recovering from an injury may benefit from a dog jacket.
- Fur density: it is important to know your dog’s fur thickness and density. For example, a husky usually has a very thick coat of fur but a rottweiler or Doberman do not, hence the latter breeds are more likely to need a dog coat.
- Level of activity: Dogs that are active generally generate enough heat and can tolerate the cold weather. However, if your dog is sluggish, old and frail, then he or she may not be physically active and consequently will not generate enough heat to protect it from the cold.
So how do you go about buying a dog coat?
Take the measurement of the dog to ensure that the jacket will fit properly and be comfortable. You should measure the length of the dog’s back from the shoulder to the base of the tail. Then obtain the girth in several places starting from the narrowest part of the chest below the rib cage and the chest area just behind the front legs. Finally, get the diameter of the collar area. When you have the measurements, it is important to err on a slightly larger size by a few centimeters than a smaller size. The dog jacket should not be too tight around the waist or neck nor should it be too loose because will then allow the cold wind to pass through easily.
What are the types of dog coats available?
- Wool garments: Dog coats are made of many fabrics of which wool is very common. The wool fabric is soft, easy on the skin and is ideal for areas of the country where the temperatures are not too cold (usually above 5C). Wool garments are not suited for areas where temperatures are below 0C. Dogs with long fur may prefer thin wool jackets as they retain heat and also allows them to exercise without getting overheated. Small pups and older frail or sick dogs may need a thick woolen garment to prevent heat loss.
- Windproof jackets: During fall and winter, the weather can be cold and windy and in such cases, one should buy a windproof coat for the dog. These windproof jackets are made of nylon or a plastic polymer. The windproof jackets are comfortable, allow for aeration and do not prevent overheating of the dog. If the weather is below OC, then the windproof jacket can be combined with a woolen coat to provide extra protection to the dog.
- Rain is a common occurrence in North America and for those who walk the dogs all year round, a waterproof jacket is highly recommended or a dog raincoat. These waterproof jackets are made of nylon, are comfortable and prevent the fur from getting wet. They can even be combined with the wool coat for added warmth.
- Combo dog coats: Today there are triple-layer dog jackets available which are not only warm but are water and wind-resistant. These triple layer dog jackets are ideal when taking the dog out for a walk in the snow. The inner wool layer prevents heat loss, and the two external layers prevent the fur from getting wet. These combo triple-layer jackets are not recommended for active dogs as they can cause overheating.
- Reflective fabric: When buying a dog coat it is important to get a reflective jacket or a strap. During winter, the days are shorter and it is often dark early in the evening. Hence a reflective coat can allow others to see the dog. In addition, this also makes it easier for the owner to spot the dog if he or she is off leash and playing in a field.
- Dog leash. Many dog jackets also come with a clip to hook on a leash. So instead of using a neck collar, the dog jacket can be hooked on to the leash.
What about accessories?
In North America, the winter months are often associated with snow and ice on the ground for many days or weeks. If you have a dog with arthritis, is old and/or frail, you should consider buying leg warmers. Because of the extensive use of antifreeze and salt on the pavement and roads during winter, it is important to protect the dog’s paws. The antifreeze can cause serious damage to the paws and thus some type of dog booties are recommended. Again, select leg warmers that have a snug-fitting. If they are too tight, they can restrict movement and cause an unpleasant sensation. If the leggings are too loose they will fall down. Get leg warmers that are adjustable. You can buy leg warmers made from fur or silicone.
When should the owner put on a dog jacket?
While it is obvious that a coat is recommended when the weather is extremely cold, sometimes the weather may not be cold enough; hence it is important that the owner pay attention to the dog’s behavior. If the dog is shivering or refuses to go out, then this may be a clue that a dog coat is required. In some cases, after you put on the jacket the dog may overheat and start to pant excessively or even scratch at the jacket- these are signs of overheating and the jacket should be moved. Other factors that may determine the need for a jacket include how sunny it is, the level of the dog’s activity and the hair color. Dogs with black fur have a tremendous capacity to absorb the sun’s warmth and generally do not require a jacket. Ultimately one should use common sense; If the dog is just going outdoors for a short bathroom break then a dog jacket may not be necessary, but there is no harm in putting one on.
Keeping the dog safe
It is important for dog owners to know that just putting on a dog coat is not 100% effective against frostbite injury or hypothermia from cold weather. Hence the dog owner should always take the following precautions:
- Don’t leave your dog outside in the cold for extended periods without any protection or even a dog house.
- Check for signs of frostbite on the ears, tail or paws regularly; these areas are often not protected by a dog coat.
- Always check for signs of overheating which include red gums, drooling, excessive panting and high body temperature. If these signs are present, take your dog to a veterinarian immediately.
- Do not leave the dog coat on when inside the home as it is likely to cause overheating.
- Finally remember, just like humans, dogs can also develop allergies to certain fabrics or detergents- so regularly check the dog skin for redness, pain, and itching.