Does My Dog Need a Coat in Winter?

Written by Small Door's medical experts

Does my dog need a coat, jacket, or sweater in the winter? At what temperature does a dog need a coat? Although dogs come equipped with their own fur coat, during the winter they may need a little extra insulation. The dog’s breed, size, and temperament play a part in deciding which dogs need to wear coats, and which ones don’t.

In This Article

At what temperature does a dog need a coat?

If there’s snow and ice on the ground, or persistent chilly winds, then a winter jacket for your dog is a good idea. Small or thin-furred breeds, puppies, and senior dogs will generally need a winter coat when the temperature outside feels at or below 32°F (0°C). Once the temperature drops below 20°F (-6.6°C), keep a close eye on your dog, regardless of breed, for signs that they are uncomfortably cold. If you’re putting on a coat to go outside, odds are good that it’s cold enough for your dog to need a coat as well.

Is it okay to put a coat on a dog?

Yes, putting a coat on a dog is fine, provided it’s under the right circumstances. Dogs should not be wearing coats in mild weather, while indoors, or just for fun. If your dog is clearly opposed to wearing a coat (for example, shows signs of anxiety or repeatedly tries to take it off), then modify their routine to minimize their exposure to cold weather.

Which dog breeds need to wear coats and jackets?

There are lots of dogs that can benefit from wearing coats when it’s cold out, but for different reasons.

  • Shorter-haired dogs: Dogs with fine hair, especially if they have low body-fat, will get cold faster. These include Greyhounds, Whippets, Pit Bulls, and Chihuahuas, among others.

  • Small dogs and puppies: These little guys don’t generate or retain as much body heat as large dogs.

  • Senior dogs: Older dogs have weaker immune systems and often suffer from arthritis or other age-related ailments; cold can exacerbate these problems.

  • Dogs with medical conditions: Heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes can interfere with a dog’s ability to maintain body temperature.

  • Short-legged dogs: Dogs like Basset Hounds, Dachshunds, and Corgis can lose heat quickly if their low stature puts them in contact with snow.

What about in-between size dogs, like Jack Russells? Or the gigantic yet short-haired Great Dane? Or your mutt rescue? It really depends on the individual dog. A good rule of thumb, no matter what the breed, is that if your dog seems cold—shivering, whining, or slowing down—a coat can’t hurt.

Please remember: Don’t force your dog to wear a coat if they don’t want to. The stress on your dog (and on you) isn’t worth it. If necessary, adjust your dog’s routine to ensure they still get enough exercise and stimulation, but avoid getting too cold.

Do dogs even get cold in the winter?

Dogs get cold just like people do. But some dogs, like Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies, were bred for cold climates. Others, like Newfoundlands or Chow Chows, are so large and furry that the cold doesn’t affect them much. Then again, if you have a Chinese Crested, they probably get cold when you open the fridge. No matter what their breed, dogs who are accustomed to warm weather may experience cold more strongly.

Intense cold can cause hypothermia, which occurs when a dog’s body temperature falls to dangerously low levels. Hypothermia causes muscles to stiffen and breathing and heart rate to slow. In serious cases, it can be fatal. Frigid weather may also cause frostbite, which most often affects a dog’s ears, tail, or paws. (A winter coat can help prevent hypothermia, but has no effect on frostbite, which afflicts extremities.)

A good rule of thumb, no matter what the breed, is that if your dog seems cold—shivering, whining, or slowing down—a coat can’t hurt.

Additional dog coat questions and tips

Here are a few do’s and don’ts along with frequently asked questions regarding dog jackets and sweaters.

Watch for chilly dogs

Even if your dog is wearing a coat, stay with them while they are outside so that you can monitor them for shivering, whining, or anxiety. These behaviors could indicate that your dog is too cold; even with a coat on.

Be mindful of heat-generating activities

Another consideration is the dog’s activity level. If your dog is going to run around at the park, the coat will retain their extra body heat, making them even warmer. If it’s cold out, but your dog is being extremely active, keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t get too hot.

What are the features of a good coat?

A good dog coat will cover your dog’s neck, belly, and back. Waterproof fabrics are important, because a wet dog will get colder much faster than a dry one. The dog coat shouldn’t have parts that can be chewed off and swallowed, so look for one that doesn’t have a zipper, buttons, or tags.

Give your dog’s outfit a once-over

After putting on your dog’s jacket or coat, take a look at them from a few different angles to make sure everything’s secured. Check that zippers are fully closed and not pinching, and velcro is securely fastened. Any unsecured flaps or buckles that are swinging or flapping around could irritate your dog’s skin, or just distract them from their walk.

No coats or jackets when indoors

Be sure to remove your dog’s coat when you return home. A dog wearing a coat indoors can overheat quickly.

We hope this article has helped you decide whether and what kind of coat to put on your dog. Feel free to get in touch with us if you have specific questions about keeping your dog warm this winter.

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