When Is It Appropriate to Use Dog Coats or Other Clothing for Your Dog?

Looking for the best dog coats? Doggy fashion is a booming business these days.  Pictures of dogs in cute outfits regularly go viral on social media.  Whilst many of these outfits are an indulgence for us as owners rather than for the benefit of our dogs, there are times when dressing up your dog can have a really practical purpose and one that is for the welfare of the dog.

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Dressing your dog up for a photo opp is popular these days but sometimes dressing up a dog can have a more beneficial, practical purpose too 


Coats in Cold and Wet Weather

The most common example of when a dog will benefit from an additional layer is when the very cold winter temperatures hit.  Not all dogs will need to wear a coat in cold weather but there are groups of dogs that certainly benefit.

1. Breed and Coat Type Will Make a Difference

Through our selective breeding processes not all dogs now have the types of coats they would have had in days gone by and some breeds originally come from countries where they would have been used to living in only hot temperatures.

So an ancient breed like a Basenji, that originated in Africa and would have been living in hot temperatures, has a thin coat and may struggle to cope in the extreme cold without some help.  The same goes for breeds like Greyhounds and Whippets, their thin coat and natural minimal body fat mean that they are particularly susceptible to the cold.

Breeds like Huskies or Malamutes which have a very thick double coat and originate from countries that experience very cold temperatures are highly unlikely to need a coat and, in fact, could be at risk of overheating more easily if you decide to put them in one.

Smaller dog breeds often feel the cold more so thinner coated chihuahuas or dachshunds, whose bodies are also closer to the cold ground, often benefit from wearing a coat.

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Extreme temperatures can impact on smaller, delicate breeds more

2. Elderly Dogs Can Feel the Cold More

Elderly dogs are often not as active, sometimes have thinning coats or less body fat, and may have arthritis.  They often benefit more from a coat in cold weather.

3. Puppies Can Also Feel the Cold More

A puppy may not have as much body fat, their coats are not always as dense as when they are fully grown and they do not regulate their temperatures as effectively as an adult dog. Don’t spend a fortune on a coat though as they will obviously grow out of it quickly.  If you are trying to buy something they can get as much use as possible from, make sure that the coat is not so big that it impedes their movement. Also, make sure that you introduce them to wearing it carefully and in conjunction with lots of yummy treats. If their first experience with a coat is a negative one it can mean that you will have difficulty with trying to introduce one again at a later stage and it can also create trust issues between you.

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Puppies fur is often not as dense as when they are fully grown and they cannot regulate their temperature as well as adult dogs so they tend to feel the cold more 

4. Dogs That Are Unwell May Be More in Need of a Coat

If you have a dog that is not well and struggling to regulate their body temperature, this may mean they would benefit from a coat.  If they have a medical condition like Cushing’s Disease, Diabetes or a Heart or Kidney condition they can be particularly susceptible.

5. Dogs May Need a Coat After Strenuous Exercise or After Being Wet

If you have a dog that normally copes well with the cold but they have taken part in strenuous exercise and then stay out in the cold but are then less active they may need a coat at this point.  So perhaps you and your dog have taken part in an agility competition or another active dog sport, and then you are standing on the sidelines watching.  Just like would happen with humans, as their heart rate slows again,  they may start to feel the cold.

If your dog is a water baby or it has been raining heavily and you have a period of inactivity outside this is another time when they could start to get cold and a coat could be required.  If there is a harsh wind whilst it is raining they are also likely to get cold more quickly.

If your dog is damp after a walk, they may start to feel chilled whilst sitting inactive in the car, or perhaps after a bath on a chilly day they may feel cold if they are not fully dried off.

If your dog does love the water care needs to be taken when walking in areas where they have access to it when they are wearing their coat.  If your dog goes into the water wearing the coat, it can become quickly waterlogged and this can make it more difficult for your dog to swim and stay afloat, it can also become tangled in their limbs.  Keep them away from water when their coat is on! Also make sure they do not go out onto frozen water, if the ice breaks they can easily become trapped and it is very dangerous.

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Dogs can feel the cold more easily after strenuous exercise or if they are wet or damp 

T-shirts or Bodysuits for Dogs with Allergies or Injuries

Sometimes dogs can have extreme cases of airborne allergies or grass allergies.  In the Spring and Summer months, they may have uncomfortable flare ups where their skin can become itchy and even raw and sore.  There are medications that can help ease these problems (advice should always be sought from your vet) and you can also manage their exposure to certain allergens but sometimes, even with medication, your dog can still experience discomfort.

With grass allergies, for example, it can be impractical and often unfair to restrict your dog’s access to this type of surface.  By using a well-fitting, lightweight t-shirt or bodysuit the amount of contact your dog has with the grass can be minimised and it can often be a really helpful tool in conjunction with any medication that your dog may be receiving.

These types of body suits can also be useful if your dog has had surgery or has a wound on their body that they won’t stop bothering.  The covering of the suit acts as a deterrent and can stop them from accessing the area. It can be less stressful and more comfortable for your dog than wearing a cone.

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For dogs with a grass allergy it can be useful to invest in a lightweight trouser suit to minimise the exposure their skin has to it when out on walks

Protection From the Sun

Certain breeds can be more at risk of sunburn than others.  Short-coated dogs and especially those with white fur are more prone to experiencing problems.  Those with a lot of naked skin exposed are the most impacted. So, for example, if you have a Chinese Crested, it can be impractical to smother their whole body in doggy safe sun cream and, also, they may just try to lick it off anyway.  By using a lightweight t-shirt this can cover up most of the body and minimise their risk.

Be careful to ensure that when wearing the t-shirt it is not causing them to get too hot.

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Breeds with a lot of exposed bare skin, like the Chinese Crested, may benefit from wearing a light t-shirt or body suit in hot temperatures to help minimise the risk of sunburn 

To Help Ease Anxiety

Some fearful, anxious dogs can be comforted by den-like spaces, being very snuggly and even having a swaddle like sensation created by wearing a snug fitting item of clothing.  This is a sensation that has also proven to often be effective for anxiety issues in some humans too.

The most well-known product on the market for dogs is a t-shirt called a Thundershirt.  It is designed to be very snug fitting (but not uncomfortable) and has extra pressure points on certain parts of the body to aid in the relaxation process.  It is not a cure-all for fearful or anxious dogs but, for some, it can help take the edge off and this can make them more receptive to any training being done to help them overcome their anxieties.

Coats Can Even Be Useful in the Very Hot Weather Too

In the extremely hot weather, some dogs can struggle to regulate their temperatures and are at increased risk of overheating.  To help your dog cope, using a cool coat can often be a useful tool. These are usually a coat that has a specific material that is good at absorbing and holding water and it stays damp and cool for a prolonged period.

Whilst these can be very effective it is important to follow sensible guidelines for keeping your dog cool in the hot weather.  Make sure you are not exposing your dog to extreme temperatures for a long period, try to keep them in shady areas, avoid vigorous exercise, never leave them in a stationary car, and keep them well hydrated.    Watch out for when the coat starts to dry out too as, once it has lost its moisture, it can actually make your dog overheat more easily.

Boots Can Be Useful in Certain Circumstances

For dogs with sensitive or injured paws, or for during icy and snowy weather conditions, boots can sometimes be a practical wardrobe addition.  If you are walking in areas that are heavily salted or gritted it can help protect their pads from becoming sore and they will then have less residue on their pads to try to lick off (the salt can be toxic to your pet when ingested).  Ice and snow can get stuck in between the pads too and boots prevent this from occurring.

Boots are the most difficult wardrobe item for your dog to become used to wearing. It is important to make sure that they are very well fitting to ensure they do not chafe or fall off too easily.  It is also important to introduce them slowly and alongside the administration of lots of tasty treats. For less bulky boots that are not too expensive, the Pawz Disposable Boots can be a good option.  Whilst they do eventually wear out, you can usually get a good number of walks with your dog in them, once you have mastered the technique for getting them on, they are less cumbersome than other boots and they do not cost as much as some of the heavier duty options.

The Ruffwear Grip Trex Boots are extremely hard wearing and durable and could be a good investment if you live in an area that has a lot of heavy snow and ice regularly or if you take your dog for long hikes over uneven, rough terrain.

If your dog is really not keen on boots but you feel their paws are getting sore or too ice or snowball packed then you could try using a doggy safe paw wax (like Mushers Secret) or even using coconut oil on the pads can be helpful.  Neither of these will cause any problems either if your dog tries to lick them off.

Don’t forget, if your dog has been out without boots on grit and salt, it is really important to make sure that you thoroughly wash their paws after the walk.  Also, if snowballs have gathered on any part of your dog and you want to rinse them off make sure that the water is not too hot to avoid discomfort or chilblains.

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Even breeds like Huskies, which do not usually need a coat, find boots beneficial when exercising heavily in snow 

You Can Even Get Doggy Snoods and Buffs

Okay, so these are not very often a necessity but for the long neck, very fine coated breeds like Greyhounds, Whippets and Salukis they can be popular.  These breeds are often extremely sensitive to the cold and their long necks can often be left exposed, even when they have a coat on.  A Doggy snood can help give them extra coverage and keep them extra cozy.

What Kind of Coat Is Right for My Dog?

There are lots of different coats on the market, some are style over substance though.  Always look for a well fitting coat, one that is suited to their breed type and one that will ensure they get the right level of warmth.

Below is a list of some of the options

  • Raincoats provide a light, wind and waterproof coverage.
  • Heavier winter warming coats can be good for those dogs that really suffer from the cold or for in very snowy and extreme weather conditions.
  • Trouser Suits cover most of the body.  These often need a more careful introduction to ensure that your dog is comfortable and they are not suited to dogs with joint or mobility issues as they can be tricky to get on.  Care must be taken to ensure they do not impede on your dog’s movement. Fleece trouser suits are often less bulky and more comfortable for your dog. I am a fan of the Equafleece Trouser Suit for the alpine winters my dog Annie is currently experiencing.  Not only do they keep her cozy but they also help prevent the gathering of snowballs on her fur that can occur in the fresh, deep snow.  Careful measurement is required to ensure a good fit.

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Annie enjoying the snow in her Equafleece Trouser Suit

  • Cooling coats , as mentioned, can be useful for helping your dog avoid overheating in the hot weather
  • Medical Body Suits, also mentioned, can be helpful to protect against airborne allergies and can also stop your dog from worrying a surgical wound or injury.
  • T-shirts and Sweaters can be good if your dog is feeling chilly in an indoor environment as they are less bulky and more comfortable than a coat.  They can also be used outside, on a dry day, if your dog is more comfortable in this than in a more heavy coat.

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A sweater can be a less bulky, more comfortable option for around the home and garden 

  • Drying Coats that are often made from an absorbent towelling material can be useful to pop on your dog after a bath, after a rainy walk or when coming home from a wet walk in the car.  If your dog is still damp it can help to wick away excess moisture and stop them from getting chilled.
  • Service Dog or Alert Message Vests are also available to allow members of the public to know something important about the dog.  Working Service Dogs wear a vest so that members of the public know it is appropriate for the dog to be in a usually non-dog-friendly environment and also that, whilst they are working they should not be bothered.  You can also get vests that let people know that a dog is looking for an adoptive home, that they need space from other dogs or are nervous of people or for those that are blind or deaf or have some other non-obvious impairment.

How Do I Measure My Dog to Get the Right Coat Size?

Usually, the main measurement that is required for fitting a dog coat is the back length.  This is taken from the nape of the dog’s neck, in between the shoulder blades, to the base of the back where the tail bone starts.  It is usually better to err on the more generous side of things if you are risking ordering online.

It can be really tricky to get the right fit without trying the coat on.  Certain coats work for certain breed types and shapes better than others. Deep-chested or broad dogs need a very wide fitting coat.  Dachshunds, with their short legs and long bodies, can have their movement restricted in a lot of coat types and often need a dachshund specific coat.  Large skulled breeds like French Bulldogs often have a struggle with the right fit for coats that go over the head and slim, deep-chested breed like Whippets or Greyhounds also often need a breed specific coat to get the best fit.

If you can take your dog for a fitting, this is always the best option, or perhaps they can try on a friends dog’s coat first to see if it seems appropriate.  If you are ordering online, consider asking the vendor for their advice and the more specific their measurement requests are, the more chance there is of you getting an accurate fit.

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Wide skulled breed like Bulldogs can sometimes be tricky to find the right coat size for.  The coat above has a zip along the back meaning they do not have to struggle with fitting their head through the neck opening 

Never Force Your Dog into a Coat or Other Outfit

Some dogs are more accepting of wearing coats or jumpers than others.  Make sure that you always introduce a coat gradually to gauge their reaction.  If they are at all unsure never just force them into it. Not only will it become a battle every time you try to put it on them, it is not fair on your dog and they could end up losing patience or becoming fearful and possibly grumpy with you.

Always pair introductions of the coat with the administration of some super yummy treats.  By using positive reinforcement they will associate the item with good things happening.  Take it slow and build up to getting it on gradually.

For dogs with mobility issues, try not to opt for an item that is more challenging to get on.  Putting a dog with arthritis into a trouser suit could be painful for them as their legs need to be bent and manipulated into position to get your dog into it.  Sometimes trouser suits with a zip along the back are available and these can be a better option for a dog with mobility issues if you want them to have more body coverage.

Some dogs will also be happier in items of clothing with certain types of fittings.  Velcro fasteners, for example, can be easier than zips to get on and off but your dog may not like the noise the velcro makes when being unfastened.  The velcro also gathers much and fur much easier.

Watch out for Overheating

Be sensible about when your dog needs their coat.  Watch out for your dog getting too warm in their coat as they can quickly move from being too cold to panting and uncomfortably warm.

If they are doing a lot of strenuous exercise, perhaps the coat should come off then, even in the cold weather.  Or maybe you have stopped in at a coffee shop and the hike in temperature is noticeable.

Does It Mean That Dressing up Your Dog in Any Other Instance Is Cruel?

No, as long as your dog is comfortable, not stressed and not being forced into it.  Dressing up for a fun photo can actually turn into an enjoyable activity if you keep the sessions short, don’t use anything that impedes their movement or is too bulky and if you make sure you always pair it with lots of yummy treat rewards.

Some dogs just don’t like being ‘dressed up’ though and, if this is the case and you are only doing it for the sake of a cute photo or because you like them in an outfit, put your dog first and just don’t do it!

dog coats

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