Does Your Dog Need a Winter Coat?
Size, age, and pre-existing medical conditions are all factors to consider.
It's almost indisputable: Dogs in coats are adorable. But setting fashion aside, is dressing your pooch in a polka-dotted parka necessary to protect them from the cold? The answer is maybe. While adding an extra layer can shield your dog from cold, rain, sleet, snow, and wind, not all breeds benefit from a coat, says Jason Nicholas, DVM, president and chief medical officer at Preventive Vet. "As a general rule—and with all other things being equal—the larger the dog, the less likely they are to need a coat," he explains. Dogs with longer, denser, and more insulating fur—think: Bernese Mountain dogs, Saint Bernards, Newfoundlands, and huskies—are also less likely to need a coat. Small dogs and toy breeds, however, may benefit from a coat.
But whether your dog needs a coat doesn't just come down to size and fur, however. Both young and senior dogs may need the added protection a coat can give. "Puppies and senior dogs often have lower ability to regulate their body temperature compared to adult dogs," Nicholas says.
Their overall health can come into play, too: Everything from obesity to medical conditions such as hypothyroidism or Addison's disease can affect a dog's ability to regulate body temperature, Nicholas says. If you have a pet that suffers from a weight issue or medical condition, talk with your veterinarian about whether your dog would benefit from the protection of a winter coat.
You may also want to dress dogs with light-colored or sparse fur—despite their size—in a coat, says Nicholas. If you live in an area that's especially sunny, UV rays can reflect off bright, white snow and ice, and cause sunburn or, worse, skin cancer. A coat can give a shield from the rays. Lastly, dry cold doesn't always call for a coat; but wet cold, in which sleet, rain, or snow could soak through a dog's fur and cause faster heat loss, often makes a coat necessary, Nicholas says.
Regardless of whether it's a good idea for your dog to wear a coat, it's also important to consider whether they will tolerate it. "If they panic and become catatonic when a coat is put on, it's likely not worth it," he says, "or you will need to [speak to a dog trainer about] conditioning exercises."