When does my dog need a coat? It’s a question I’ve not heard enough this winter because too few people understand that it’s not just small dogs that benefit from winter clothing.
First, let me preface by saying that I don’t believe that dogs should be worn as accessories.
I also don’t believe that dogs should be dressed in clothes that have no functional purpose. The possible exception to this is Halloween.
So…when are clothes functional? When they serve to protect the health of your dog.
Notice that the focus here is on your dog?
Clothes should be used to protect your dog’s skin, coat, or overall health from both the elements and from self-destructive behavior like chewing.
Dog coats are perhaps one of the most beneficial pieces of clothing that can provide protection to a dog, particularly during winter months.
So, how do you know when your dog needs a coat?
When does my dog need a coat?
There are some general rules of thumb:
- Slender breeds like greyhounds and other sighthounds should always wear a coat in winter months
- Young dogs, older dogs, and immunocompromised dogs should wear a coat to help prevent chilling
- Dogs with low body fat should wear a coat to insulate the body
- Dogs with thin, short, or missing fur should wear a coat to protect the skin from chilling and to slow loss of body heat
- Dogs fighting illness or disease can benefit from the added warmth of a coat
- Small dog breeds need coats to prevent rapid chilling due to loss of body heat
- Dogs with arthritic or painful joints can benefit from the warmth of a coat to keep joints moving more freely
When doesn’t my dog need a coat?
If you have a medium to large breed dog with a thick, dense coat, then the chances are that they will not need a coat even in the winter months. The exception to this is for older or immunocompromised dogs that fit into this category.
Need some examples? Let’s take a look…
Dogs that can benefit from a winter coat:
- Chihuahua’s (small breeds the lose body heat rapidly)
- A 15-year-old Labrador retriever (senior dogs can be immunocompromised and have lower body fat as well as arthritic joints)
- Whippets (slender athletic breeds)
- A 3-month old golden retriever (younger dogs do not yet have fully developed immune systems and can succumb to upper respiratory illness very quickly)
- An emaciated foster dog rescued from an abusive home (dogs with extremely low body fat and immunocompromised dogs are also at high risk for illness from chilling)
- A Newfoundland with mange (hair loss means skin exposure and rapid loss of body heat)
- A mixed breed undergoing chemotherapy for cancer (immunocompromised dogs can quickly succumb to illness from chilling)
- A 13-year-old German shepherd with arthritic joints (arthritic joints become stiff and painful when chilled)
Dogs that don’t need a coat:
- A healthy young adult or adult Newfoundland (a large dog bred to work in frigid waters and that has a thick, double coat)
- A mixed breed with a dense coat and healthy body weight
In addition to the points above, you also need to consider the following when it comes to your dog and winter weather…
- If it’s too cold outside for you (does it hurt your eyes? does it burn your skin?), it doesn’t matter whether your dog has a coat or not, it’s too cold out to take your dog out for anything other than a quick bathroom break.
- If you do need a winter coat for your dog, make sure that it insulates them and is a functional coat rather than something that just “looks cute”. We use the Gooby Big Dog Vest.
- Your dog’s coat is a product of their breeding which means that a dog bred to work in Alaskan conditions will generally have a coat that protects against such conditions. HOWEVER, keep in mind where your dog has been raised. Their coat may be thick, but if they have been raised in Miami (not the best idea for a thick coated breed), they are not prepared to cope with the winter conditions of Alaska without a period of adjustment. Cold affects your dog mentally as well as physically!