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Do dogs need coats in the winter? A vet's guide

Dog wearing a coat in winter
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Do dogs need coats to keep warm in cooler temperatures? You may have wondered whether buying your furkid a jacket or a good quality dog coat is actually needed or if they are just a fashion accessory. 

In short, the simple answer is that, for some dogs, a coat is an essential winter item. It allows them to leave the house and exercise comfortably during cold weather. Some breeds were bred in much warmer countries and are not adapted for cold winters. 

In this article, we’ll explore this idea in more detail and share some tips on the sorts of things that could indicate whether your dog might benefit from a jacket.

Do dogs get cold?

Some dogs do feel the cold, particularly those that were originally bred for life in warmer climates. As the temperature drops, you might start to notice that your dog is actively seeking warmth. They might start lying near radiators or fires or even trying to snuggle in close to you. Some dogs might also dislike going out for walks when it is cold or wet, preferring to stay indoors in the warm instead.

Whether a dog feels the cold or not depends a lot on its breed, fur type, and how much natural insulation it has.

What types of dogs need coats in the winter?

Dogs with short or fine fur are more likely to feel the cold. Dogs that are slender and don’t have much muscle or fat will also get chillier more easily due to a lack of natural insulation. 

Equally, small breeds struggle to retain heat compared with large breeds so often need an extra layer. Young or old animals may feel the cold more too. 

Examples of breeds that are most likely to need a coat or fleece include:

  • Greyhounds
  • Whippets
  • Chihuahuas
  • Smooth haired Dachshunds
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Chinese crested dogs
  • Mexican hairless dogs

Dog wearing a coat in winter

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How do you know if your dog needs a jacket?

The following list gives some indications that your dog could benefit from a jacket:

  • A slender breed, bred for warmer climates  
  • Your dog has short or fine fur
  • He is very old or very young
  • Shivering, crouched, or hunched body position
  • A reluctance to go outside and exercise
  • A low temperature outside

At what temperature does a dog need to wear a coat?

There is no set temperature at which a dog must wear a jacket, as each individual will vary (much like people). Go with your instincts and if you think it’s cold outside, then your dog might be feeling the chill too. 

Generally, coats and fleeces are only needed over the winter months but don’t go into autopilot. Some frosty spring days could warrant a jacket and some milder winter ones might mean he would get too hot while exercising in a coat. So, follow your dog’s cues again, and go with your gut feeling.

Do dogs really need to wear coats?

Some do, yes. Chihuahuas, for example, are small and not very well-insulated dogs that were originally bred to live in the hot climates of Mexico. They don’t have the right adaptations for a UK winter, so a coat will be necessary to keep them comfortable.

Other dogs definitely don’t need to wear a coat. Breeds that have thick fur, such as Huskies, Saint Bernards, or German Shepherds, are well insulated and are already adapted for cold conditions. Putting a jacket on breeds like this would cause them to overheat and could be dangerous. If you are unsure, ask your veterinarian for advice.

When choosing a coat, start with a lighter one and see how you get on. This ensures that your dog doesn’t overheat, or become reliant on an over-padded jacket that they don’t need. A coat made from waterproof material is more sensible than a fleece, especially if your dog is likely to get wet or muddy. A coat that is easy to wash and quick-drying might be helpful too.

You might want to choose one with reflective or fluorescent material if you plan on taking your dog out in the dark during the winter months.

One important thing to note is that dogs should not wear jackets inside as they could quickly overheat, so save them for outdoor wear only.

Is it cruel to put a coat on a dog?

Dressing your dog in a functional and breathable coat is not cruel, provided they can carry out all their natural doggy behaviors in it. They must be able to exercise freely, and the coat mustn’t rub or cause sores. It could be argued that it’s cruel to force a thin, short-haired dog out for a walk without one on!

Other dress-up outfits, however, could be considered cruel. Fancy-dress items serve no functional purpose, other than for our amusement, so you must never force your dog to dress up against his will.

Dog wearing a coat in winter

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Conclusion

In summary, some dogs will need a jacket whereas others will not. Look at your dog’s breed, build, and age, as well as how he reacts to a drop in temperature. Make sure you choose a good quality jacket that is comfortable for your dog to wear and exercise in, rather than a fancy-dress item.

Dr Rebecca MacMillan

Dr Rebecca MacMillan is a companion animal vet who has always had a passion for writing and client communication. She works in the South West and loves complex medical cases.