When Do Dogs Need to Wear Coats?

If you're a parent of a child, you might assume that if you're cold, your child needs to put on a coat too. But when you're dealing with dogs, it's not as easy an assumption to make. After all, dogs have fur and humans don't! But a dog's metabolism is different depending on the type of dog that he is, and some dogs have much shorter fur, and therefore less insulating fur, than other dogs do.

French bulldog in red jacket
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There are three factors to consider when you're wondering when dogs need to wear coats, according to Pets Best:

  • your dog's size
  • your dog's breed
  • how cold it is outside

Additionally, consider your dogs health and age. According to Vet Street, small dogs and elderly and/or ill dogs are especially vulnerable to cold weather. They simply can't generate as much heat as they need to keep warm on their own. Vet Street also makes the point that putting a rain coat or jacket on your dog when you go out can save you from having to clean up a wet dog when you get back home.

Small Dogs

You will usually see small dogs shivering moreso than a large dog. That's because very small dogs, as in lap-size dogs, don't retain body heat as well as larger dogs. When it's cold outside, these small dogs may need a sweater or coat even if you're just going around the block for a quick outing. Even if dogs love the snow, they need coats to conserve their energy.

Dogs from warm climates

Some dogs, like Saint Bernards or Siberian Huskies, are from cold climates and have thick coats that are meant to protect them from extremes in temperatures. But even a huskie from Florida might need some help in cold weather if they're not used to it. According to Pet MD, if you're concerned about your dog being cold, there's no harm in putting a coat on him, just to be safe.

Shih tzu in a jacket
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Short-hair dogs

Some short-haired dogs may need coats no matter what breed they are. The longer the fur, the more air is trapped in between the skin and the fur. It's this air pocket that creates a warm layer that protects the dog from the cold. Without that, they can get cold, just like you would if you had no hair on your head and you didn't wear a hat.

Dogs such as chihuahuas are both small and short-haired, and these dogs especially can get colder than other dogs. Even larger dogs such as Greyhounds or whippets can become cold easily, since they have such short hair and high metabolisms.

Temperature and time outside

Dogs in temperatures above 45 degrees typically do not need protective clothing. If you're only going to be outside for 10 minutes or so, you're probably fine, according to Pets Best. Sometimes, deciding if your dog needs a winter coat may be a situation where you have to weigh a few different factors. If it's a dry wintry day that's above freezing and you're not going out for very long, your dog is probably fine.

If it's icy or snowy and you're going out for an extended walk, bring along a coat or jacket. If it's icy, your dog may want booties for her feet. This could help her avoid irritation from walking on sidewalks or roads that have been salted. But, if your dog has a small frame and has to step through snow or is a puppy, they will get cold and tired more quickly.

Shih Tzu with stick
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Your dog's age and health

Keep in mind too that your dog's age will affect his ability to tolerate cold temperatures. As he gets older, maybe he's just not as comfortable being cold as he once was, and the effort of walking uses more energy that he can't use to keep himself warm. A dog battling health problems also won't have as much energy to fight off the chill.

Wind chill

Dogs that get too cold may develop hypothermia. Frostbite could occur, particularly in their unprotected paws, if the weather is extremely cold according to Embrace Pet Insurance. Wind chill is a phenomenon where if it is windy it feels colder than the air temperature actually is. This can affect your dog as much as it affects you.

When to take the coats off

Once you get inside, take the coats, sweaters, or booties off so the dog can return to a normal temperature. Because they do have fur, it is more likely that they will overheat if they keep their coats on too long. You can take off a layer if you get hot, but dogs can't. They're also not used to wearing clothes over the long-term like humans are, so they can be uncomfortable if their clothes chafe or rub on their skin.