I'm often asked if dogs really need to wear coats and boots in the winter. The questioners often seem to make fun of pet keepers who go out of their way to get just the perfect coat or sweater. However, it is really not only vanity that makes us dress dogs for the winter. There is a biological need.

In years past, cultures kept only dogs that were selectively bred for that particular culture's weather. You would never see a Chihuahua in Victorian England. The breeds that were kept there had coats that could withstand the winter weather. These days, we have all sorts of dog breeds native to different parts of the world living everywhere. So, of course, a Chihuahua or some other short-haired breed is going to need a coat or sweater in a cold Northern winter.

If petkeepers want to choose a particular color or style, that is their choice. As long as the dog can move comfortably in it, the style should not matter to people who do not keep dogs. Boots are just as important as sweaters and coats, because the feet of dogs never evolved to handle icy sidewalks and streets.

When fitting a dog for boots, be sure there is enough space for the dog's foot inside, but that the boots cannot be shaken off. Put the boots on the dog in the house and allow it to become familiar with them indoors before going outside.

Brush dog's teeth daily

Q My dog's toothpaste has skyrocketed from $6 a tube to more than $10. Are there any ingredients in our home that we can use to brush our pet's teeth that will do the same job? I know how important it is that I brush my dog's teeth, but times are hard these days.

A First, never use human toothpaste; we know to spit it out, but dogs do not. In a pinch, you can mix together 1 tablespoon of baking soda with a teaspoon of chicken or beef stock or broth to add taste. The resulting paste will clean your dog's teeth, but commercial toothpastes contain enzymes to fight plaque and fluoride to combat bacteria. So don't discontinue the use of the commercial brands altogether. A good compromise would be to use the commercial toothpaste once a week and then the baking soda paste the rest of the time (brush a dog's teeth daily, as you would your own).

Send questions to pet expert Marc Morrone at petxperts2@aol.com.