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I live in the northeast United States, and the weather can become fairly cold here in the winter.

Jackets and sweaters for dogs seem to be popular around here, but are they necessary?

I can understand some breeds of dogs with shorter fur needing some additional assistance in cold weather, particularly if they originated in warmer climates (e.g. chihuahuas). However, I frequently see dogs with longer fur bundled up against the cold, such as terriers, poodles, and bichons.

Are these merely fashion accessories, or do dogs need protection from cold weather even on short walks? If the extra protection provides actual comfort, instead of fashion, how do you determine when the weather is cold enough to merit it for a dog? Presumably the point at which clothing becomes beneficial varies from breed to breed; is there a simple guideline I can use?

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So, there are breeds of dogs where this is clearly not necessary (e.g. any sled dog) and may cause overheating if engaged in strenuous activity. Bearing in mind that all dogs have some insulating features to a greater or lesser degree, so there's no one-size fits all, you did mention some rules of thumb to consider1:

  1. Small dogs have less of a self-heating engine as it were and can benefit from the extra insulation of a sweater. You noted the chihuahua as one example, but that could also include your terriers, toy poodles, etc.

  2. Old and/or sick dogs, like humans, are less able to fight off the chill of cold weather. So, in this case, the added help can make them more comfortable.

  3. Thin fur dogs that don't have the same insulation as similar, but more richly furred, dogs of a comparable size.

When? Well... once you start needing a winter coat, then if your dog falls into one of the above, you'd probably want to look for:

  1. Shivering

  2. Reluctance to go outside to do business

  3. Other signs of discomfort in the cold

  4. Heavy snow (to keep it off them)

Just keep in mind the activity they're going to engage in. If it's strenuous then consider the overheating risk. Happens to us to, but we can unzip our coats.

1Source and some additional information at Pet.MD and Vetstreet

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    Discomfort in the cold could be a sign of needing protection for their feet, not their body. We hit a record -28C last winter when my Shiba Inu was a pup and he heavily favored his feet (it wasn't due to deicing products, either, since it happened in the back yard). – cimmanon Nov 27 '13 at 19:02
  • @cimmanon - Agreed. In some cases, it may warrant both. I was responding to the coat question specifically though. – John Cavan Nov 27 '13 at 20:31

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