A Veterinarian Explains Whether or Not Dogs Need Coats in the Winter

Do dogs need coats and sweaters in the winter? This is what one vet has to say.

Cute dog in a sweater in his mom's arms
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We all know those dog owners who find it fun to put tutus on Toto. And although dressing dogs in costumes can be entertaining, there are some cases in which it's more for necessity. Every winter, for example, the question remains: Do dogs need coats? According to Rachel Barrack, DVM, founder of New York-based practice Animal Acupuncture, the answer to that question depends on the dog.

"When temperatures drop, some dogs may benefit from a sweater or jacket to keep warm," Barrack says. "This is especially recommended in small toy breed dogs and dogs with short hair coats."

As for canines with thicker coats—such as Bernese mountain dogs and Saint Bernards—Barrack says that they should be fine sans sweater. That's because these big dogs "do not require extra insulation."

However, if your big dog is older, then you might want to actually consider getting them a sweater. "Winter can be particularly challenging for older dogs," says Barrack. "Like human senior citizens, canine senior citizens have weakened immune systems and are more susceptible to viral infections such as the flu and bacterial infections. Older dogs are often prone to arthritis, which can worsen in severity as the temperature drops."

In addition to putting on a coat, she also recommends acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy for older dogs. Both of these treatments "can be very beneficial in alleviating the associated discomfort" that senior canines experience.

The real winter accessory your dog needs—whether they're big or small, young or old—is a pair of booties. According to Barrack, "the salt used to de-ice roads can cause the outer layer of the paw pad to slough off, leaving a sensitive layer of fresh skin that can take days to weeks to properly heal."

The moral of the story is make sure you pay attention to your dog's behavior in the winter. Although not all dogs need coats, most canines can get chilly just like humans, so Barrack says to "use caution when bringing your dog outside in extremely cold temperatures."

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