Do dogs need winter coats?

Dr. Barchas, It's getting very cold out now. Do dogs need coats? Is there a weight or temperature guideline? My two are 20 and 25...


Dr. Barchas,

It’s getting very cold out now. Do dogs need
coats? Is there a weight or temperature
guideline? My two are 20 and 25 lbs. I have spoken
to some other dog owners and they are wondering
the same thing too.


Most dogs and cats can tolerate a significant amount of cold. This especially applies to long-haired individuals. However, remember that cold is a relative matter.

Consider the following true story. I once saw a Jack Russell Terrier walking comfortably, without a jacket, outside in the Siberian winter. This happened in the city of Irkutsk, and it was 20 below zero. The dog’s owner also looked quite comfortable despite wearing only a light jacket. Both the dog and his owner were acclimatized to Siberia.

I, on the other hand, was bundled up in every warm piece of clothing I owned, and I was still freezing and miserable. My California body was not prepared to handle that type of cold. And if I had brought a dog from California that day, he would have been suffering just like I was.

So, do dogs need to wear coats? It depends on the dog, and it depends on how cold it is.

As a rule, smaller dogs are more likely than larger dogs to need extra warmth. Their small bodies cannot hold heat as well.

Likewise, dogs with short, thin coats are more likely than those with long, thick coats to need extra warmth.

Therefore, a Chihuahua who lives in Los Angeles might need a sweater if it dips below 50 degrees (Fahrenheit). A husky who lives in Fairbanks might never need a sweater.

Also, remember that pets, like people, warm up with activity. I may take off my jacket when I am hiking a trail up a hill, but put it on again when I reach the top. A dog playing fetch usually won’t need a coat. A dog being carried in a purse usually will.

Given the complexity of the situation, your best bet is to use common sense and pick up on your pets’ cues. If they are reluctant to go outside, or if they show signs of being cold (such as seeking warmth or shivering), then you should consider bundling them up.

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