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Does Your Dog Need a Sweater?

Dog in Holiday SweaterSure, sweaters can be froo froo and cute. But honestly, some dogs truly need them!

(photo credit:

Let’s face it, it’s cold. On a particularly slow news day, that gets repeated multiple times. Our big dogs with thick coats love this weather! We can’t get them to come in, especially when there’s snow!

Our little dogs, however, are hating life.

Three things affect small dogs’ ability to stay warm: haircoat, surface area, and location.  Many small breed dogs lack thick undercoats despite having long hair. We see a lot of fur and assume they are warm. But think about how easy it is to see the skin on, say, a maltese. The copious hair doesn’t do much for warmth without an undercoat. It’s all just for show.

They also tend to have a greater surface area in relation to their body mass than big dogs. Larger surface area means more heat dissipation (heat leaving the body). So while a 10 lb dog can generate heat to stay warm as well as a 50 lb dog, the heat just escapes, as opposed to staying in the dog! Combine that with a minimal undercoat, and you have one chilly dog!

Third, your small dog is lower to the ground. If you don’t regularly, lie down on the floor by where your dog hangs out. Is it drafty? Is the wall nearby cold? If you have laminate or tile floor, feel how cold that gets! Does he or she hang out by a heater vent? (Hmmm, why is that!!?)

Sweaters and jackets are not necessarily a fashion statement, but are functional. Finding one that can fit your dog and does not rub the arms or neck can be a project! Measure your dog around the chest, just behind the arms, and then the length from the collar to where the tail starts. Then accept the fact that many sweater packages and website listings are less than accurate. This will take some trial and error. The most imporant measurement is the chest circumference, so if you have to look at just one, go with that.

I can’t tell you how many sweaters I’ve bought and returned. Seriously. I think Petsmart is going to post my photo by the door pretty soon saying “Do not let this woman in!”

In all seriousness, don’t wait to see your dog shiver to realize he or she is cold. How often are you cold and uncomfortable, but not to the point of shivering? Yeah, that’s where your small dog is most of the time these days. If you have a small dog, try a sweater, jacket, or sweatshirt. Even if it takes a few tries.

They’ll thank you for it.
Most of the time.

Some dogs experience what I call “sweater paralysis.” While wearing a sweater or jacket, they find themselves unable to move. How to get your dog to adjust to wearing a sweater or coat?

First, let them sniff it and get used to it. Maybe even put it in their bed and let them snuggle it to sleep.

Then, when you put it on, keep it positive! Put it on, give a super special treat, then remove it. Do this again a couple hours later. If you put the sweater on and your dog acts like nothing has changed, you’re set! If your dog is refusing to walk and sulking, then you”ll have to slowly increase the time (and treats) while he is wearing it. Does your dog live for bye-bye or walks? Try a short car ride or walk while wearing it to take their mind off of it! Sometimes all they need is a little distraction, and to realize that hey, this is not a bad thing!

Web-DVM guest blogger Dr. Karen Louis is a practicing small animal veterinarian.  See more of her articles at her blog at

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