Why Do Dogs Wear Coats in the Winter?


Why do dogs wear coats in the winter? It’s not an uncommon sight, more and more dogs are seen wearing jackets, sweaters and coats when they’re out and about in cold weather. As much as dogs look cute in those colorful outfits, are they really necessary or are owners just covering their dogs up so they can match their attire and make a fashion statement? Turns out, it depends. Some dogs really need coats, others can perhaps do well without and some others really don’t need them at all. Let’s see what the experts have to say about it.

A Matter of Fur

The husky's coat provides natural insulation.
The husky’s coat provides natural insulation.

When it comes to coat types in dogs, there are two variants, dogs with single coats and dogs with double coats. Single-coated dogs, as the name implies, only have a layer of hair; therefore, they lack an undercoat. Examples of dog breeds with a single layer of hair include several breeds designed to tolerate well warm climates such as the Chihuahua (Mexico), Azawakh (Egypt), Basenji (Congo) Cirneco dell Etna (Sicily). Just like our summer sweaters, their coats are light and not meant to provide warmth and insulation during the frigid winter weather as seen in certain places.

Double-coated dogs, instead, have a top coat, made of stiff guard hairs meant to repel water, and a soft, dense undercoat meant to provide insulation. Just like our winter coats, that inner layer of insulation keeps dogs warm while the outer layer offers weather-repellent qualities that help keep the dog dry and protected from the elements. Examples of dog breeds with a double coat include several breeds meant to tolerate well cold climates such as the Bernese Mountain dog (Switzerland), Siberian husky (Siberia), Alaskan malamute (Alaska) and Newfoundland (Canada).

The Melting Pot

Back in time, most dog breeds mostly belonged to the areas where they originated from. As more and more dogs breeds developed and humans crossed borders and traveled the world, this expansion contributed to dog breeds spreading around the globe. This has caused certain dog breeds to find themselves transplanted to areas they were really not genetically suited for. For these dogs, an extra layer of protection can help make them feel warm and comfortable.

Small dog wearing sweater.
Small dog wearing sweater.

Little Body Mass

Examples of dogs breeds who benefit from a winter coat include dogs who have short, thin single coats and little body mass. Many sighthound breeds have short coats and little fat to rely on to stay warm. Whippets and greyhounds are notorious for wearing winter coats and the Greyhound Rescue recommends a coat along with other essentials for their potential greyhound adopters. Several pint-size and petite dog breeds are also prone to chilling as they have a harder time retaining body heat.

Down to Earth

Being very small with little body mass, and thin, short coats aren’t the only factors to keep in mind when tackling the topic of doggy winter attire. One must also consider other factors,  such as for instance, a dog’s height. Dog breeds who are low to the ground such as basset hounds, corgis and dachshunds are prone to lose heat more quickly because they are at closer contact with the snow, explains Dr. Marty Becker. Romping in a park where there are puddles of ice, cold water could cause a dog to get chilled quickly.

Older dogs may benefit from a jacket.
Older dogs may benefit from a jacket.

Dog Health Status

Equally important is considering a dog’s health. Some dogs may suffer from medical conditions that makes them more prone to chilling. For instance, a dog suffering from cancer lacks the strong body constitution he had before, so equipping him with a winter coat and shortening those walks when it’s too cold outside are good protective measures, suggests Susan Harper,  an Animal Health Consultant  and member of the Dog Cancer Support Team. Elderly dogs, dogs with arthritis or dogs suffering from Cushing’s disease, diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease are more prone to suffering the effects of cold, further adds Dr. Marty Becker.

Give your dog time to adjust to wearing a coat.
Give your dog time to adjust to wearing a coat.

Make Good Things Happen!

Whether your dog has a medical condition or is prone to chilling, it’s important to give your dog time to adjust to his new jacket. Don’t just put it on and assume your dog will be fine with it! Remember that dogs weren’t born wearing winter attire so it may take an adjustment period to acclimate to wearing a new coat. Some dog may feel stressed and also inhibited in posturing to go potty when they’re covered from neck to tail. Go gradual, getting your dog slowly used to the motions of putting the jacket on and remember to keep the process fun and upbeat, by telling your dog how good he looks and giving treats so he can make positive associations.

Did you know? Young puppies are unable to regulate their body temperatures on their own, even those belonging to the double-coated breeds. Their ability to regulate their body temperature doesn’t start  to develop until they are around 2 weeks of age, explains Dr. Susan Whiton, a sled-dog veterinarian and owner of Dream a Dream Iditarod Sled Dog Kennel.