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Winter Guide for Pet Owners

For pet owners further from the equator, the struggle with making sure your pet is cold-climate-ready is all too real. There is the question of whether your pet actually needs a coat or whether it’s really worth it to wrestle them into boots when all they want to do is get them off as quickly as possible. We at S’wooft encounter this several times a day, every single day, so we have some thoughts on the subject and are happy to offer some ideas. 

Here in Chicago, we also know there is more to winter readiness than just preparing for what’s outside the door. Our indoor spaces can be just as much of a challenge for our pets as the outdoor ones. In order to make sure your pets are comfortable and safe while you’re at work, we have a few tips that will keep everyone happy and reassure you that your pets are comfortable.

What temperature should your house be for your pets?

We all know that the winter gas bill can be brutal. Often, when we are not at home, we want to turn things down just enough not to freeze the pipes but still save some cash. For pet owners, this adds an extra level to the considerations that you have to make. While you fight with Karen about the office thermostat, Ellie and Snowball back home need to stay cozy. The plus side is that as long as your thermostat is set at or above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll save a little money on the gas bill and your pets will be comfortable. 

Some other quick tips for keeping pets snug indoors during the colder seasons include:

  • Making sure they have somewhere soft to sleep. Blankets and plush pet beds go a long way. 

  • Leaving the curtains open for sunbathing.

  • Cuddles with your pet when you are home and can share body warmth.

Outdoor Recommendations

Many of us would do anything for our pets and willingly keep the house as warm as they like it. Unfortunately, we don’t have the same control over outdoor temperatures. Over the last few years, the concept of a polar vortex went from an obscure meteorological phenomenon to an annual event that we realistically have to be prepared for. While the general advice in the winter is simply to limit your dog’s outdoor time, the fact is that bathroom breaks and exercise are fundamental parts of pet ownership. 

The good people at PetMD have done extensive research into what temperatures are dangerous for different sizes and breeds of dog regarding longer exposure. Clearly, no dog should be left outdoors for any extended period of time in the winter, but we find it helpful to determine the appropriate length of dog walks for our clients.

How to Style your Dog for Winter

Having established the safest way to be indoors and outdoors, we can now discuss the still important, but definitely more fun, subject of fashion. It can be tricky to figure out what kind of coat your dog needs and if you should get them boots for the cold temperatures. Below is a breakdown of the assorted winter choices for curating a functional dog’s designer collection.

Where ‘dem booties at?

The functional aspect of boots is much the same as humans. When the ground reaches below freezing temperatures, the skin on a dog’s paw pads can crack, dry, and become painful. It can be beneficial to use paw wax on your dog’s feet regularly, regardless of whether you put shoes on them. The various brands of paw wax also create a protective barrier between their paw pads and the salt on sidewalks in the winter that, when combined with cold/snow, creates a painful burning sensation on their feet.

Whether with paw wax and/or booties, it's important to protect paws from salt on the streets as it's often very harmful to dogs. It can cause further damage to their paws, and if they lick it off, many brands can poison your pets. There are pet friendly salts on the market, but not all of your neighbors will use them.

As far as shoes go, there are two main varieties we suggest:

The disposable rubber: These generally come in packs of 12, meaning you get three sets (assuming your pet has four legs). While they are disposable, they also last more than one use. We have found that with a little care and the use of baby powder to stop them from getting sticky, you can get nearly a month’s use out of each boot.

The reusable canvas: These are more expensive and particularly challenging if you lose one on a walk, since you don’t have a spare. This can make them more cost prohibitive, but they do offer more robust protection against the elements.


Historically, putting a coat on your dog was seen as being precious and frivolous. Today, thinking has changed and in the winter months, a dog coat is seen as more of a necessity. Small dogs are especially well catered to, with brands creating small dog coats, sweaters, pajamas, and all manner of winter fashion. It is clear from the info graphic above, that small dogs need more protection from the elements and at higher temperatures.

In climates like Chicago, however, even big dogs need extra protection, and that can be a real challenge. Here’s what to look for in a coat, no matter what size the dog you’re dressing:

Belly coverage: Not all coats are created equal, one of the most important things you can consider when buying a dog coat is whether it offers good belly coverage. Often, more expensive brands don’t make this a practical consideration. Covering the dog’s belly keeps low-riding pooches clean when it’s cold and wet, and with taller dogs, it performs the essential task of keeping them internally warm. While this Barbour coat is certainly smart, it offers no belly coverage for this little guy that travels close to the ground.

On the other hand, this little guy’s Gooby pet coat is offering plenty of padding and tummy coverage.

Waterproof: If it’s cold outside, chances are that it’s also wet. A sweater offers excellent warmth and can be a great idea for larger dogs in the city. Keep in mind, though, if there’s a chance your dog could find themselves rolling in the snow and staying outdoors for a longer walk, you should aim for something weather-proof to ensure the level of protection they need.

Many companies are making larger options for protective dog wear, from big box stores like Target to more specific designers like Weatherbeeta who also create essentials for horses.

Shapes and sizes: Like humans, dogs come in all shapes and sizes. Some dog apparel companies cater specifically to dogs with different proportions, like bullies and greyhounds.

However you decide to protect your four-legged friends from the elements this winter, we at S’wooft wish you all a safe and warm season!

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