Finding Your Dog a Warm Winter Coat
Forget fashion! Your dog needs a warm coat that fits and goes on easily.
Putting a coat on your dog shouldn’t be about making a fashion statement. Rather, it should be about keeping a chilly dog warm, thereby preventing hypothermia, a dangerous condition characterized by a reduced internal body temperature. (The normal canine body temperature is 100.5 to 102 degrees. A dog whose temperature drops below 95 degrees can die.)
A dog’s natural protection against cold varies from breed to breed. Labradors and certain Northern dogs (Huskies and Malamutes, for example) have developed with special physiological responses for coping with cold. However, many other breeds (and certain individual dogs) benefit from extra warming layers in cold weather, including:
• Thin dogs, who may not have adequate fat stores to keep themselves warm
• Extremely short-haired dogs and/or breeds accustomed to exotic climates
• Immune-compromised dogs, who should be protected from the stress of cold
• Older dogs, especially those in poor health
Warming up these dogs actually helps them stay healthy, by sparing the dog’s body from having to generate as much heat as it would have to otherwise. By simply slipping an extra layer on these dogs, you can help them preserve their physiological resources for the maintenance of general health and vitality.
If you shop in stores, you have a huge advantage over catalog shoppers. You can try several coats on your dog to check their fit and ease of application, and you can examine them closely for good-quality zippers, seams, and Velcro fasteners, and thick, warm fabric.
The only drawback to shopping for a coat in person is finding a store that carries a broad-enough selection of quality designs to choose from. Catalog shopping, in contrast, may seduce you with a fantastic selection of pretty coats, but it’s hard to tell from the photographs whether the coats are thick and well made. And don’t count on being able to return coats that you try on your dog and then return due to poor fit. Although none of the companies we ordered coats from told us this in advance, we found that many will not accept returns of products that have any dog hair on them. It’s understandable, but regrettable. Before you place an order or hand over your plastic, ask the sales representative about the business’s return policy.
Keep your climate in mind as you shop. Do you live in perennially wet, cold Seattle? The dry, windy cold of Denver? Look for a coat that offers protection from the combination of weather conditions your area generally experiences. Some degree of waterproofing is needed in rainy Washington, for example, a wind-blocking fabric is a must in the plains states, and greater insulation is needed in areas that hover at freezing temperatures all winter.
Also, keep your dog’s body type in mind as you examine coat candidates. Some designs are clearly intended for deep-chested, narrow-waisted dogs like Greyhounds. Others better suit block-bodied dogs such as Golden Retrievers. Check the placement of the closures to see whether they can be adjusted to accommodate your dog.
If you buy from a catalog, or are shopping without your dog’s company, be prepared with his or her measurements. Every coat manufacturer sizes their coats differently. Some use the measurement from the dog’s collar to the top of his tail, some use the dog’s collar size, and still others use the measurement around the widest part of the chest. Measure all of these, as well as the dimension of your dog’s waist at its narrowest point, and take these numbers shopping with you.
Some models we liked
Because you need to find a coat that suits your climate and dog’s physique, this is one of those instances where we can’t possibly test every coat available, or even tell you which ones we tested and decided were the “best.” Instead, we’ll describe some of the products we liked a lot, and tell you what it was about each coat that earned our admiration. With luck, one of the coats we chose to feature would suit your dog’s needs.
The Snuggy is simply one of the best fitting coats we have tested, and one of the easiest to put on the dog. Made of a thick Polarfleece fabric and fastening on both sides of the dog with a wide swath of Velcro, this coat offers superior warmth, but little protection from wind and none from rain. The coat is available in a wide range of sizes (separated by two-inch increments) and colors. We ordered from Valley Vet Pet Supply, (800) 360-4838. Price depends on size, from $20 for the smallest and up to $37 for the largest. Worth every penny.
PC Panache Polarfleece
We ordered this coat directly from the manufacturer, who is so determined to provide coats with superior fit that she actually prefers to make your dog’s coat to order (for only a few dollars more). However, our experience was that, carefully measured, the “off-the-rack” coats fit beautifully. The Panache Polarfleece features an elasticized collar that easily slips over the dog’s head, and a nylon belt (fastened with a metal clip) that secures the coat around the dog’s waist. The workmanship is gorgeous, and the personal customer service divine. Expect to pay more: $35 for the small sizes, and up to $56 for the largest. Again, fleece coats do not offer much protection from wind or rain.
We should mention that PC Panache also makes a very nice raincoat that provides superior protection from wind and rain, though it is unlined and so offers no insulating properties. Their thickest coat is the wooly fleece-lined Denim “City Coat,” another attractive, easy-on model. Panache Rainslicker $35-$50; Panache City Coat $45-$66. PC Panache, (610) 296-3846.
Avery Neoprene Dog Parka
The first time we reviewed dog coats, way back in 1998, a reader chastised us for not including a coat that offered protection from a freezing rain. I tried to explain that as a native Californian, such a thing had never occurred to me! However, this coat is just the solution for keeping warm, if not dry, in that sort of nasty weather.
Designed to keep hunting dogs warm even when they are soaking wet, this Neoprene suit offers superior insulating abilities, but hopelessly flunks any sort of attractiveness test. Available in two different camouflage patterns, “Wetlands” and “Shadow-grass.” Fastens with Velcro strip that runs along the dog’s spine. Easy on and off. $35 from Dunn’s Supply Catalog, (800) 353-8621.
Therapet Standard Ultrex Coat
This simple coat features a nylon shell for wind protection (and some water resistance) and a soft fleece lining for insulation. It fastens with two Velcro straps, one at the neck and one around the waist. $15-$33; a special Greyhound model fits dogs of that physique, $50. We ordered from The Dog’s Outfitter, (800) 367-3647.
Arrowhead Dog Jacket
This is another nice fleece-lined coat with a windproof and water-resistant exterior shell. The coat fastens at the front with a single Velcro strip; the wide belly band fastens with two fairly adjustable Velcro strips.
Like the Snuggy, the Arrowhead coat is available in an impressive range of sizes: from the Toy (5-10 pounds) to the XXXL (120-140 pounds). Despite the fact that we ordered one that was a little too small for our model (the Dalmatian in the center photo), the coat stayed securely fastened, even while the dog ran and played. Affordable at $25-$50. We ordered from KV Vet Supply, (800) 423-8211.
Fido’s Wind & Rain Gear
Once again, I’m not sure who is going to want or need a coat capable of protecting a dog from gale-force wind and rain, but if that person exists, so does the coat. Mann Design Ltd., of (wouldn’t you know it?) Minneapolis, Minnesota, makes what they describe as “one of a kind garments” to thoroughly protect a dog from the worst kind of blustery weather.
I’ll admit that this isn’t the easiest coat to put on. For one thing, you have to put the dog’s front legs through the sleeves – not as bad a job as it could be, since the maker put a small Velcro tab at the “wrist” to widen the sleeve for putting it on, and then fastening it close once on the dog. Next, you seal up the long Velcro strip along the dog’s spine, as well as another Velcro strip at the dog’s throat. The hood is easily attached or detached with another strip of Velcro. Finally, you tighten the elastic drawstring at the dog’s waist to keep his chest sealed from wet and wind. I suspect I could safely take a dog through a carwash in this outfit – only kidding!
I bought the coat from a local pet supply store; you can buy direct from Mann Design at www.fidostuff.com or (800) 343-6779. $20-$50, depending on size.
-by Nancy Kerns