Do Dogs Need Coats – Dog Coats For Winter

Does a Dog Need a Coat in Cold Weather?

We like to keep our dogs comfortable and happy, but how do you know when a dog coat for winter, or a sweater for your dog, is really needed – or just something you just want because YOU are cold?

There are several things to look at to determine if your dog will benefit from a coat in cold weather, and I’m going to tell you what factors for you to take into consideration before you make your dog comfortable with a coat, or before you will make him or her very uncomfortable.

First, a brief biology lesson regarding a dog’s natural coat.


A Dog’s Natural Coat

There are two main types of hair in a dog’s coat – primary hairs and secondary hairs.

Primary hairs make up the outer coat, sometimes called guard hairs. Secondary hairs are shorter and make up the undercoat.  The variations of a dog’s natural coat are a result of the ratio of primary hairs to secondary hairs, and the textures of them.

The undercoat is what protects your dog’s skin from moisture, as well as providing insulation to help keep your dog warm in the winter. Not all dogs have an undercoat, and since dogs with single-coats lose body heat in colder climates, then they need you to provide a means to keep warm when they are outside for long periods of time.


Some Examples of Single-Coat Dogs

Bichon Frisé
Shih Tzu


Other Factors to Consider When Deciding if Your Dog Needs a Winter Coat

The size of your dog.  In addition to small dogs and toy breeds needing an external means to keep warm in the winter, puppies do not have fully developed coats, so they cannot maintain their body heat.

Older dogs that have compromised immune systems, or dogs with metabolic or other health issues that cause hair loss will need an external means to keep warm during the winter.

If your dog came from a warm climate and hasn’t acclimated to colder temperatures, or the temperature outside is extreme, even a dog with a double-coat would need a coat or sweater to help keep him or her warm when venturing outside for any length of time in the winter.

Dogs with a double-coat, if they are indoor dogs, will continuously shed their undercoat throughout the year because they live in a climate-controlled environment, and will benefit from a sweater or coat.
Dogs with a double coat that remain outdoors year-round, however, will not shed their undercoat during the cold weather, so they will be protected from the cold with their natural coat insulation.

See our selected dog sweaters and coats.


When Not to Put a Sweater or Winter Coat on Your Dog

Putting a coat or a sweater on your dog could possibly make him or her very uncomfortable. Not just in a way that he or she is irritated by wearing clothing, but in a way that could cause serious harm such as heat stroke or exhaustion. If your dog already has a very thick undercoat, and isn’t showing any signs of being cold – shivering, curling up in blankets, etc.,  I would not recommend putting a winter coat on your dog. Perhaps a light sweater or jacket to keep your dog dry in the snow (a wet heavy coat will cause your dog to be cold in colder temperatures!) will be all that your dog will need to stay comfortable in the cold winter months – unless, of course, you are living in extreme climate conditions!


What Next?

Now that you’ve decided that your dog needs a winter coat, or a sweater, you need to measure him or her in order to get the correct sizing. Different manufacturers have sometimes VERY different sizing charts, but they’re all based on actual measurements, for the most part.

The Back – Measure from the base of the neck to the base of the tail.

The Neck – Measure around the neck.

The Girth – Measure around the thickest part of your dog’s rib cage – directly behind the front legs.

Those are generally the only 3 measurements you will need to find the perfect dog sweater or coat size to keep your dog warm and comfortable through the winter.

See our selected dog sweaters and coats.




  • Stefan

    Although we live in a hot climate zone here, Thailand, our little Chihuahua still needs a sweater when staying in the air conditioned house for a long time.

    She is shivering and looks for warm places. My wife loves to make some small sweaters for her herself but sometimes we do buy a nice shirt when we see one.

    I looked at your “Ugly” collection, these are sooo cuuute. I can’t show them to my wife or she buys them all 🙂

  • Chris

    A really interesting and educational article once again – I’ve visited your site several times now in relation to our Irish Setter, and your content is always more than helpful. 

    I’m guessing that a Setter really doesn’t need any sort of winter clothing protection, due to our ‘lady’ never showing any signs of being cold and even taking a dip in the sea after it’s been snowing (yep, that happens!). 

    It seems to me that this sort of problem could be related to cross breeds of dog more than traditional – would I be right in thinking so?

    • Shannon

      Irish Setters have a double coat, meaning the thick undercoat provides protection and insulation for warmth in the winter. Some breeds have only the top coat, and are susceptible to cold weather injury if outside for long periods of time in the winter, since they don’t have the insulating undercoat to help them retain body heat.

      Your dog’s outer coat helps to repel moisture, keeping her undercoat (and skin) dry, which aids in keeping her warm after taking a dip in the sea 🙂

      I would only suggest outerwear for your dog specifically if she were out in cold, wet conditions for an extended period of time, if only to ensure that her undercoat remained dry, otherwise you may risk her overheating.

  • Samson Oklobia

    Very Educating post Shannon. I agree with you that is absolutely essential to monitor the body temperature of your dog, especially during winter. The moment you feel they are uneasy or uncomfortable, these coats should be taken off them. This tends to be the case when they are indoors. When they are outdoors, they have a great time with the coat giving them the warmth they so deserve. Great work 

    • Shannon

      Absolutely! And since they can’t take them off and put them on themselves, you really need to pay attention. Especially if your dog is a double-coat breed – overheating can come very quickly if wearing clothing indoors!

  • Fiona

    We had a Maltese x Silky and I remember he would be shivering in winter the poor thing. So that was an easy signal that he needed a winter coat! Though he did need some time to become accustomed to the coat – he would freeze for a while until he worked out he could still move with a coat on. I do love how cute dogs look when they’re wearing a coat!

  • Brenda

    I had no idea, I thought dog just naturally knew how to find warmth when it’s extremely cold. Some dogs are uncomfortable in a leash never mind a coat. Informative, it’s helpful that you have made special mention of dogs with natural coat. I was thinking that they would not necessarily need this. 

    Thanks for sharing….Interesting post.

    • Shannon

      Some breeds originate from a warm climate, and only have a single, top layer to their natural coat. Without the undercoat, they don’t have an insulating layer to protect them from the cold, or have the ability to retain their own body heat. and would absolutely need a coat or a sweater in cold temperatures!

  • mark kabakov

    Shannon, Hi! I am pleased to read your caring topic. I will share some thoughts about attention to the dog in rainy cold weather. Do not force the dog out if it is stubborn. If the dog is just wet in the rain, dry it with a towel, and then comb the wool with a special comb so that it is better ventilated and dries faster.

    Winter is not only frost and snow, but also cold rain. It is not by chance that they say about rainy weather: “A good owner will not even throw a dog out of the house.”  Let’s leave aside that it is impossible to expel a dog in principle, but what is true is true, dogs do not like to walk in bad weather. 

    Short hair dogs, breeds with short legs, elderly or sick animals should preferably be provided with a special sweater, and in the rain – with a waterproof cape with reliable fixation.

    What about dog clothes for walking in frosty weather? I myself live in a warm climate. Therefore, I answer honestly: let the caring owner read all the articles on your website. Here he will find many useful things to take care of his beloved pet. Thank. Mark

    • Shannon

      If they have a double-coat, keeping the undercoat dry is essential in keeping a dog warm and comfortable in cold weather.

      If the breed has only a single-coat, it’s even more important to keep her dry in cold temperatures – it would be as if you or I were to go outside in the winter with nothing but a wet shirt on!

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