Are Dog Clothes Cruel?


It’s cold out there. You know that every time you open your front door, you’ll find yourself wishing you’d remembered to bring along an extra sweatshirt. And it doesn’t even feel like winter anymore. Sure, we might be bundled up under our thick coats and scarves, but all we can do is stare at our breath coming in puffs.


What if someone saw us doing this? They’d say we’re crazy. We need more than a warm coat — we need a furry friend. Wouldn’t it be nice to wrap your arms around a little ball of fur and take him/her home where he/she could curl up next to you on the couch?


That would be so much nicer than what most of us do when it gets chilly outside. Instead of bringing Fido inside with you (or maybe even before), many of us go out into the freezing cold and buy him/her a cute sweater, scarf and hat combo. In fact, many shelters see a huge spike in adoptions during the colder months because people want to give their pets something warmer to wear.


It seems like such a good idea until you actually think about it. Why would anyone choose to dress their pet in a sweater? Is it really better for the animal? Are these types of products cruel? To answer those questions, let’s first look at how animals normally stay warm. Most animals use two methods to stay warm: shivering and sweating.


When animals shiver, their muscles contract involuntarily to generate heat. A typical human will shiver five times per minute without realizing it. Dogs don’t shiver very often, though, since they only sweat through their pads which means that they rely heavily on their environment to maintain body temperature.


As temperatures drop, animals cool off naturally by panting, urinating and defecating, and using special glands to release excess moisture from their bodies. If they don’t get enough water, however, they could die of hypothermia.


In addition to natural cooling mechanisms, many animals also have the ability to produce internal warmth on their own. Many birds, reptiles and small mammals possess hemoglobin, which allows blood to absorb heat directly from sunlight. Some fish species even have specialized organs that allow them to hold onto heat produced by other fish. Even insects and worms have heat-trapping cuticles.


So why wouldn’t animals just build their own internal heating systems? It takes a lot of energy to make a furnace, right? Besides being too expensive, it’s not always practical. Birds, for example, typically spend most of their day flying high above ground level, exposing their wings to direct sun exposure.


Their feathers act as solar collectors to provide warmth. The same goes for snakes, lizards and turtles. Smaller creatures may prefer to hibernate rather than expend energy building a furnace. Animals that live underground, especially rodents, also benefit from having built-in heaters. Unlike other animals, they don’t have access to sunlight that provides direct heat. Instead, they generate their own heat by burrowing deep beneath the surface. So now you understand how animals stay warm. Let’s move on to understanding how they stay comfortable.


Dressing Your Pet


If you’ve ever spent any amount of time outdoors, then you probably realize how uncomfortable it can be to walk around wearing layers upon layers of fabric. Imagine walking around in the snow for hours wearing a heavy woolen coat, scarf, gloves and boots. Now imagine doing that for several weeks each year. That’s basically what happens to dogs who are dressed inappropriately.


Most shelters agree that it’s best to dress your pet in lightweight fabrics and cotton blends instead of heavy wool. Wool holds in the animal’s body heat, making it harder for its insides to regulate temperature properly. Also consider whether the item of clothing you intend to purchase is durable enough to withstand constant washing.

For instance, fleece is great for summertime weather, but once it becomes wet, it loses its insulation properties. Cotton, on the other hand, isn’t affected by rain or humidity.


You should also avoid giving your pet anything made of leather. Leather items retain the animal’s natural oils, which makes the skin less efficient at regulating body temperature. This issue can become worse over time, causing a buildup of bacteria and odor. In extreme cases, leather items can cause serious health problems like dermatitis, eye infections and staph infection.


Aside from avoiding leather, you should try to limit the number of different materials used to create garments for your pet. Multiple fabrics help prevent hot spots, areas where one material is absorbing heat while another is radiating it. While wool is a popular choice among many humans and animals alike, synthetic fibers offer similar benefits. Synthetics tend to trap air between adjacent fibers, creating pockets of trapped air that helps keep your pet dry and insulated.


As far as colors go, black is the safest option. Black absorbs heat well but still reflects light, keeping your pet cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. White tends to reflect heat back to your pet, so it keeps things cool. Dark brown works well in the winter but may draw attention in the summer. Light tan offers protection against the sun while remaining inconspicuous in both seasons.


Doesn’t your cat already have a heater? Cat hair does! Cats’ fur acts as thermal radiation, meaning they can radiate heat themselves. They accomplish this trick thanks to tiny structures called “spangles” located within each strand of hair.


Spangles contain millions of microscopic hooks that grab incoming infrared rays from the sun and bounce them back toward your kitty’s head. Not only does this process keep her warm, but it also generates electricity. This method of generating heat is known as thermoelectric power.


With so many options available for warming pets, you might wonder why anyone would choose to put a blanket or sweater on top of their regular outfits. Well, sometimes it’s necessary. People in extremely cold climates may encounter situations where the wind chill factor is low enough to expose animals to dangerous levels of frostbite or hypothermia. Other times, animals simply can’t handle the change in climate.


Certain breeds are particularly sensitive to drastic changes in temperatures, including excessive heat or cold. If you happen to live somewhere cold enough that you have to worry about this kind of thing, you may come across dogs in shelters whose owners thoughtfully provided them with warmer apparel.


Another reason people may choose to cover their pets with blankets or sweaters is that they aren’t sure exactly how their pet likes to sleep. Some dogs enjoy sitting near a window or on a sunny patio, getting plenty of direct sunlight. Others prefer to snuggle up with a favorite stuffed toy or blanket. Still others prefer to lie down in the dark. Whatever type of sleeper your dog falls into, you may want to consider providing him/her with an additional layer of warmth.


Many shelters recommend covering sleeping dogs with an extra set of bedding or a cozy rug to help protect them from drafts, spills and odors. You should also never leave your dog alone while it sleeps. Leaving your pet unattended while it’s resting is like leaving it unsupervised while it’s eating. Both scenarios pose dangers that could result in injury or death.


Having examined the reasons behind dressing dogs, you should now be able to decide whether you need to buy a new outfit for your pet. On the next page, we’ll discuss whether certain kinds of dog clothes are better than others.


Dog owners may occasionally notice their pets scratching themselves excessively. This behavior is usually attributed to fleas or ticks, although in rare cases cats scratch due to allergies or stress.

Don’t Sweater — Just Jacket!

When considering whether to dress your pet, you should remember that the goal is to keep him/her warm and healthy. This doesn’t mean you have to stuff your pet full of sweaters and hoodies 24 hours a day. Here are some guidelines to follow :

Keep your dog away from scorching surfaces like fireplaces or woodstoves. These devices emit intense amounts of heat that can burn your pet’s ears, nose and mouth.


Heat lamps can also harm your pet. Be wary of electrical cords, too. Electrical shock can kill a dog instantly. Keep your dog away from extension cords, too. Extension cords are designed to carry electric current safely, but it can overload unprotected household wiring. You should also avoid letting your dog chew on wires or touch exposed metal parts.


Avoid allowing your dog to hang his/her feet over beds or chairs. He/she could fall asleep hanging upside down. Make sure your pet has enough room to turn around comfortably. Don’t forget about floors. Any flooring can crack or break easily, especially carpet.


Consider investing in a heated mat. Mats work similarly to bed linens they add padding and soften impact. Plus, heated mats provide your pet with a safe zone to rest in and eliminate the risk of burns from hot pavement.

If possible, keep your pet indoors during severe storms