Do Dogs Really Need Coats and Boots?

Pet parents increasingly splurge on winter gear




Illustration by Goodloe Byron

Lynn Kegler likes the layered look on her Chihuahua, Bitsy. When the 6-pound dog is bundled up with a sweater and down parka, she’ll go for 3-mile walks on cold days. “She wears clothes all the time during the winter, even at home,” says Kegler, who lives in Germantown and owns about 30 sweaters and coats for Bitsy. “She needs it. She’ll shake otherwise.”

Cold-weather gear for pets is becoming an increasingly popular splurge among local pet owners.  Westwood Pet Center in Bethesda didn’t carry winter attire until customers started asking for it about six years ago. “Now, more people want to spoil their pets,” says sales associate Jean Colombo. “It started with one line of coats in black. Then we got different styles and colors.”

During the big snowstorms last winter, the store couldn’t keep enough coats and rubber boots in stock.  Among the top sellers: All Star Dogs fleece varieties, which run from $44 to $49, and disposable rubber boots by Pawz that fit tightly, like a stretchy balloon (a 12-pack costs $15 to $20).
Are we going overboard—or do dogs really need the extra protection?

“Most, if not all, dogs should be able to be outside without the need for clothing,” says veterinarian Dr. Adam Jaffe, who owns Montgomery Animal Hospital in Rockville. Toy or small breeds, along with puppies and older dogs, may not be able to regulate their body temperature as well, so they benefit more from coats and sweaters, Jaffe explains. Short-haired dogs, such as boxers and pit bulls, are potentially at risk when the temperature dips, but their large size generally helps them stay warm.

It doesn’t hurt to put coats or sweaters on dogs when it’s cold—they won’t overheat, vets say—but pet owners shouldn’t rush to bundle them up, even if they’re shivering. Dr. Amy Fauth, associate veterinarian at Falls Road Veterinary Hospital in Potomac, suggests using common sense during winter. In severe weather—blizzard conditions, dangerous wind chills—dogs shouldn’t stay out long. But on a typical cold winter day, they’re usually fine. “Dogs can really tolerate the exposure better than we can because most are already wearing a fur coat,” Fauth says. “Even so, if you bring your kids inside to warm up after 30 minutes or an hour in the snow, bring the dog inside, too.”

Vets say boots and booties are generally more beneficial than clothing. In snowy weather, when dogs are exposed to ice, sand and salt, they can suffer from foot lesions, skin irritation between their toes, and infections. The trick is getting the animals to wear the boots, which can feel unnatural, Jaffe says. Ease into it by first having the dog wear the boots inside. It can be worth the effort to protect their paws, especially with puppies, older dogs and others that are very active.  

Terracita Powell and her 7-year-old son, Blake, were at PetSmart in Bethesda recently, shopping for booties for their small, white Maltese dogs—Malti and Malta. “When there is lots of salt on the streets, they can lick their paws and it gets into their digestive system,” says Powell, a Silver Spring resident who likes the brightly colored, reflective variety. “Boots keep their feet clean from debris—and we don’t want their feet to freeze.”

At Bark! in Silver Spring, store manager Michelle Estabrook is seeing more customers come in for boots to keep their dogs warm, and for wax and balm to protect their dogs’ paws.

Demand is up for durable boots such as Wellies, which are made of silicone and strap on with Velcro ($19 to $24). Estabrook says the store also sells hand-knit wool sweaters, fleece coats, rainproof jackets and vests.  

While there are exceptions, Jaffe says, clothing is generally more of an accessory than a requirement: “A lot of times the jackets are more for owners than for the pets.”

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