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when to dress your pet & how to do it safely

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan

When Jack Frost comes calling, you may not be the only one dreading the outdoors. Some furry friends are more dogged by the cold than others, and when it’s chilly outside, you might wonder if a coat or sweater could help keep them warm and toasty.


For many pets, frigid temps are no big deal; cold-weather dog and cat breeds, like the Siberian Husky and Norwegian Forest Cat, are built for the cold. But an Italian Greyhound or Chihuahua? Not so much.


does your pet really need a sweater?


Consider these factors when deciding if your pet would benefit from outerwear or give it a not-so-warm welcome:


  • Your dog’s size. Small-breed dogs tend to feel the chill more than large-breed dogs. In most cases, they simply don’t have enough body mass to generate sufficient heat to keep warm.


  • Your pet’s fur. Does your dog or cat have a thick, fluffy fur coat? If so, they probably don’t need an extra layer. But a hairless cat is likely to be cold in the winter, even indoors. And some dogs, like the Italian Greyhound I mentioned before, have very thin coats. These light-coated dogs are more prone to chill than furrier canines.


  • Your pet’s age and activity level. Older pets typically aren’t as active as young pets, so they don’t generate as much heat from zooming around. Older pets may also have trouble regulating their body temperature, in part due to potential underlying endocrine diseases. Dogs with hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease might seek out warmth and could benefit from an extra layer.


  • Your pet’s temperament and preference, regardless of breed or coat length. Maybe they’re a dog who just gets cold; a sweater could be the perfect thing to wrap them in warmth.

tips for dressing your pet


If your pet could use an extra layer (or if you’re just dressing them for an occasion), you’ll have a whole smorgasbord of options. Keep these tips in mind when choosing your pet’s wear:


  • A good fit is essential. Take your pet’s measurements — their body length and size of their chest and waist – to help determine their size. You want something snug, but not too snug. A sweater that's too big could drag on the floor, causing potential trouble.


  • Look for comfortable fabric and do your best to pick a piece that doesn’t have buttons or zippers. These extra fasteners can pose a danger to your pet if they chew on and accidentally swallow them.


  • Try to avoid wool clothes. Although it’s super cozy and dries quickly, wool can be very itchy on bare skin.


  • Watch your pet closely. If they’ve never worn clothing before, it can take some getting used to. Your pet might be uncomfortable because the clothing is new to them, or because it’s actually causing physical discomfort. Keep a close eye on them the first few times to make sure they’re happy and moving freely.


If your new purchase isn’t well received by your choosy pet and you’ve given it several chances, consider donating the item to a shelter or rescue group. Just because your pet doesn’t like it doesn’t mean a dog or cat in need wouldn’t love it. (Or better yet, adopt that sweater-loving pet!)

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