To Wrap or Not to Wrap Pets Up
When winter comes, we humans get our coats, fleece jackets, wool hats, and gloves out of the closet to fight the cold. We can see then lots of small sweaters and jackets in pet stores, too, but do they really do need them? Is it fashion or an actual need? And what about cats?
The Body Temperature of Cats and Dogs
Cats and dogs, like us, are “homeotherm” animals. That means that they can regulate their body temperature, within limits. Their way of doing that, however, is very different from ours.
We should know a few things about it, since surpassing these limits on any end might lead to serious problems: hypothermia (body temperature too low), or hyperthermia (too high).
The first thing to know is that their perception of cold is linked to several factors:
- The real and relative environmental temperature (humidity levels).
- The type and quantity of hair (depending on the breed).
- Their body fat (depending on the breed, and their nutritional state).
- The animal’s age and condition.
- Whether they are more or less used to certain temperatures.
Another key factor is that cats and dogs can’t sweat cutaneously. They can only dispel heat by panting, and through the pads in their paws. This makes them especially vulnerable to high temperatures — heatstrokes in the summer —, but also more resistant to cold.
Depending on the ability of each animal to preserve body heat, therefore, they will or will not need clothing. In case of doubt, ask a veterinarian or pet groomer you trust.
Bear in mind, in any case, that if you want to wrap them up, you have to inure them to the sweater little by little.
Dogs and Cold
According to these factors, it is not the same having at home, for example:
- an Alaskan malamute, genetically adapted to temperature drops, with a rough overcoat covering most of their body, and a very dense, oily, and woolly undercoat
- a pug, which can have thin smooth short hair, with or without undercoat, though with a good level of subcutaneous fat
- a greyhound, without undercoat, barely any fat, and thin close-fitting skin, so they hardly tolerate low temperatures.
For more detailed information, see “Dog Coats: Amount of Hair, Coat Texture and Coat Length”.
Depending on the Dog’s Age
It is not the same to have a dynamic pup or young dog who likes running, than having a quiet geriatric dog with arthrosis.
A healthy, young and dynamic animal does not need, in theory, any clothing — as long as they have a healthy fur. Only greyhounds, hairless breeds like the Chinese Cestat, or Dobermans, pinschers and others that lack a good undercoat, need in fact to be kept warm when they are young.
Senior dogs with arthrosis, though, do need a coat at the beginning of the walk. Also we should help them warm up their muscles, and massage their joints softly to improve mobility before going out. During the walk, once they are warm enough, we can take their coat off. Put it on again if they stop to gaze quietly at passersby.
However, if dogs of any age go out to the forest after a rain — or the air is very humid —, and come back soaked, dry them well. If, on top of that, it is very, very cold, do wrap them up before going out.
Dogs are very social animals. They like sleeping with the rest of the family. If they prefer the garden anyway, they must always have a place to take shelter in case temperatures drop suddenly, or something scares them.
If your pet sleeps normally in the garden, and is used to it, their coat has adjusted naturally. They do not get cold so easily. If they are not used to it, but want to sleep one night in the garden, make sure they have a warm place where to take shelter.
Cats and Cold
For cats the situation is pretty much the same. Just be careful with heaters, as cats love warmth and, sometimes, they might get burned accidentally!
Sphynx cats are a special case, since they lack fur. Their metabolism is fairly different: to keep their body temperature, they need to eat more. That does not mean that they need clothing. Like dogs, cats have judgment. As soon as they feel cold, they will seek warmth however they can — like getting under the comforter.
On the other hand, putting a little sweater to a cat that comes and goes in and out house as they wish, does not make too much sense.
Cats tolerate seldom tolerate sweaters. If they are really cold, and need one, you have to get them used to the sweater little by little. Put them the sweater at times, associating it with something positive, so they do not feel funny. This way, probably, there will be no problems.
Before you do anything, check that your pet is not too warm or too cold at any given time.
Make sure that your cat or dog’s skin and coat are healthy, and in perfect condition. The way to do it is: with an appropriate diet; brushing them regularly; and, in the case of dogs, taking them to a good pet groomer. Follow the advice of your specialty pet groomer, and veterinarian to keep the skin and fur in the best condition.
Enjoy the cold!