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QUESTION:

I own an American Staffordshire Terrier and live in the Midwest where it can get extremely cold. I generally put him in a sweater or jacket for walks on cold days. Recently, a passerby asked why my large and strong dog was wearing a sweater. Of course, I did not listen to this virtual stranger, but it did make me wonder. Do dogs require sweaters in the winter, or are dogs naturally able to keep themselves warm?

ANSWER:

If your dog is not showing signs of overheating, it is likely that your instinct to provide a little extra insulation in extremely cold temperatures is appropriate.

Many people assume a dog’s coat will protect them from the chill of winter, but not all dogs are created equal when it comes to their ability to ward off the dangers of colder temperatures. Obviously, a St. Bernard or an Alaskan Malamute is more prepared for the snow than a Dachshund or Chihuahua, but a thick coat doesn’t mean a dog can’t get hypothermia or frostbite in extreme weather. Just like humans wearing a winter coat, long-haired dogs can stay safe for a period of time in extreme cold, but eventually, the cold temperature will become dangerous. Dog owners and their veterinarians will know best what is required in winter based on climate, dog breed, age, and the health of a particular dog.  Breeds with thick coats generally do not require cold weather protection for short periods of time, whereas short-haired breeds will be more comfortable with a winter sweater and booties. Activity level is another variable to include in the equation as you prepare to go outdoors. A stroll around the block is very different than a winter hike in the mountains or running at a fast pace. The duration of your outdoor time is also a factor.

Signs of Early Hypothermia in Dogs Include:
• Shivering
• Cold ears and feet
• Rapid breathing
• Increase in urination
• Hair standing on ends

If you notice these signs, bring your dog indoors right away, dry him off with a warm towel, and offer fresh, lukewarm water. It is also recommended to call your veterinarian or emergency vet clinic to be sure your dog is safe from hypothermia or frostbite.

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