Does My Dog Need a Coat in Winter?

When it’s freezing cold in the middle of winter, almost all people would prefer to don a nice warm coat. But when it comes to coats for dogs, it’s really a case-by-case basis.

Are certain kinds of dogs more likely to need coats?

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 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.

Don’t force your dog to wear a coat if she resists. The stress on your dog (and on you) isn’t worth it.

Do dogs even get cold in 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, she probably gets cold when you open the fridge. No matter what the 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.

At what temperature does a dog need a coat?

Small or thin-furred breeds, puppies, and senior dogs will need a coat when the temperature outside feels at or below 32°F. Once the temperature drops below 20°F, keep a close eye on your dog, regardless of breed, for signs that she is uncomfortably cold.

Even if your dog is wearing a coat, stay with her while she’s outside so that you can monitor her for shivering, whining, or anxiety.

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.

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.

Our medical experts

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