Why Your Dog Might Need a Winter Coat

Why Your Dog Might Need a Winter Coat

Of course, there are all-weather dogs and Nordic sled dogs who want to romp freely in the garden even at -20 ° Celsius without a dog coat. But these dogs are exceptions and not the rule. It is our duty to ensure the well-being of our dogs and that definitely includes not having to freeze your butt off in the winter.

Yes, some dogs should wear winter coats. It depends on many factors when a dog freezes and how thick the dog coat has to be.

Why should some dogs wear warm coats in winter?

Quite simply: because they are cold!

If the dog’s body can’t keep itself warm (anymore), then walks won’t be fun. You wouldn’t want to trudge through the sleet in a sweater that’s too thin.

You don’t soften your dog and he doesn’t get used to the cold either.

The body is only able to adapt its thermoregulation mechanisms within a defined range, and then it’s over. The physiological limits of physical performance are above all innate and not “muscles” that one could arbitrarily continue to train. Otherwise, the North Pole would have been inhabited long ago.

Functional dog clothing helps to conserve the body’s own heat.

A freezing dog should therefore wear a dog coat. Above all, there is no disadvantage to be feared from wearing dog clothes. Therefore, even in case of doubt, the following always applies: Yes to the dog coat!

The worst that can happen: If, contrary to expectations, the dog overheats in its dog winter coat and is better off without it, the functional clothing is sold on at a small loss.

Which dogs need a coat?

How much cold a dog can tolerate depends, of course, on the breed of the dog, its age, its coat texture, and its general condition.

Does the coat insulate the dog sufficiently from the cold?

  • Dogs without an undercoat freeze faster.

Dog breeds without (significant) undercoat

Dogs without an undercoat who don’t have the opportunity, mobility, or temperament to exercise all their time outside should wear a coat in winter.

  • A fresh clip can ensure that an actually insensitive dog suddenly freezes. So if you regularly give your poodle a short haircut even in winter, if only because of the unspeakable snow bobbles in its curly fur, you should offer a winter coat.
  • A functional layer of sebum protects skin and fur from the weather and dry heating air. Have a look at my post about dry skin in dogs.
  • A normal layer of fat in the subcutaneous tissue insulates against the cold. Of course, more fat is also isolating, but it’s obviously unhealthy for other reasons.

Sensitivity to cold also depends on physique

  • Compared to a small body, a larger body produces more heat than it loses through its body surface. This is one of the reasons why polar bears are able to grow so big in the first place.
  • A lot of heat is lost through the outer extremities and the ears.(Sight)hounds that only consist of legs and ears are at a disadvantage here.
  • Short-legged dogs are more exposed to the cold in winter than normally proportioned dogs. Their torsos are much closer to the cold ground and it’s hard to avoid getting completely wet from underneath while running.

Do I make the dog wait in the cold?

  • Dogs in training are often required to alternate between rest times and full throttle several times. It doesn’t matter whether we go to agility indoor training or to tournaments in unheated halls in winter, load the dog into the car during breaks, or share some fun sports training time with others in the dog school while chatting. With human athletes, a lot of attention is paid to ensuring that the muscles are sufficiently warmed up and that the body does not cool down completely again during short training breaks. There is no real data on whether a dog will actually benefit from a warm coat during breaks in training. But there is also no reason to believe that a functional dog coat would hurt during winter training breaks…
  • Dogs that are forced to wait in the cold can quickly become chilled. In a stationary car or tied up in front of the bakery, the dog can quickly get very cold. If you deprive the dog of the opportunity to move or seek shelter, it should wear a coat. Exception: You should take off your dog’s coat on longer car journeys in a heated car. This gets too warm for most dogs. A cuddly blanket or a dog sweater is enough.

Age and individual preferences affect when a dog becomes cold

  • Puppies and young dogs are often not quite weatherproof in their first winter. Young dogs in the rib phase do not have an ounce of fat on their bodies. And many winter puppies are still in the middle of changing their coat on cold days and do not yet have functional adult coats.
  • Older dogs are no longer as mobile and their health is often already affected. Poor blood circulation in the skin, slowed bodily functions and less exercise accelerate cooling down in cold weather. You protect the old dog’s body by keeping him warm.
    And you prevent joint pain caused by arthrosis on cold, wet days.
  • Dogs from southern countries and dogs that spend a lot of time in heated indoor areas are not very adaptable. Some of them can’t really get used to the cold, even for many winter months.
  • Some canine personalities are just frozen. Even among representatives of the same dog breed, it happens that one wants to go splashing in every ice-cold pool, and the other finds the cold absolutely disgusting.

When are dogs cold?

At temperatures below 5°C, a medium-sized dog can start to notice if he gets cold if he spends a long time outside.

When it rains or there is a strong wind, some small or older dogs freeze miserably at temperatures below 10 °C.

It is difficult to pin down a number of degrees when an individual dog is cold. Due to wind and humidity, the temperature actually felt can also be much lower than that displayed on the thermometer.

Icy wind “blows” the warm air out of the insulation layer of the dog’s fur and thus quickly transports the heat away from the skin’s surface.

As soon as the dog shows signs of being cold, you should put clothes on him or go home. Incidentally, old dogs that are particularly cold also wear a dog sweater or a thick shirt indoors in my house in winter.

If you find it too cold despite wearing a thick winter jacket, scarf, and hat, it is probably too cold for a normally built dog in the long run. At the latest when the dog is obviously cold, it should be brought inside!

How do you recognize a cold in a dog?

Logical common sense and a knowledge of the signs of freezing in the dog help to make the right decisions in the interest of the individual animal.

Shaking (tremor)  is the most obvious symptom of hypothermia. Individual muscle groups move rhythmically in opposite directions, generating heat through friction to counteract cooling.

Tremors are associated with energy expenditure through muscle contractions and could not be sustained indefinitely. When you’re cold and shivering, your body is signaling that it’s too cold to survive in those conditions over a long period of time.

Is it always the case that dogs freeze when they tremble?

No, muscle tremors can also be observed, for example, in internal diseases, mild forms of epilepsy, or, of course, anxiety. If the cause is unclear, this should of course be discussed with a specialist. Here, for example, a video recording of the dog that you can show the veterinarian can help to clarify.

In some dog breeds, there is a familial accumulation of a tremor that does not appear to be a health risk, especially on the trunk and limbs, eg in many terriers.

Whether the trembling dog is freezing usually depends on the context:
if the dog is only trembling in winter, freezing is the most likely cause.

Cold ears and cold paws in dogs indicate hypothermia. This is where the most heat is lost due to the thin fur and hardly any layer of fat.

It’s no different for us. Even without protective clothing in winter, we quickly get hold of our hands and ears.

Trembling is hardly possible in these parts of the body due to a lack of muscles, the heat generated would be lost directly anyway.

In order to counteract excessive heat loss in the ears and limbs, the outer layers of the skin are only supplied with blood in cold weather to the minimum level that just allows the most urgent metabolic processes in the skin.

So if the dog has cold ears, paws, or legs, it’s time to bring him inside to a warm and dry place.

Leaving the dog in freezing cold weather can result in frostbite to the tips of ears, toes, or tail as the body shuts off blood flow to the tips of the external appendages in a desperate attempt to conserve heat for vital organs.

Hypothermia and frostbite in dogs

Which dog coat suits your dog?

Above all, you should pay attention to the suitability for everyday use and the functionality of the dog coat.

Material and inner lining

Dog sweaters made of sweat fabric and similar knitted or woven fabrics are wind-permeable and get wet in the rain. They offer limited protection against the cold in winter but are perfectly suitable for indoor use on dry days and for dogs who are just a little cold.

Multi-layer lined dog jackets and coats are better. These are water-repellent on the outside and cozy and warm on the inside. High-quality dog ​​jackets are hard-wearing and easily machine-washable.

As a middle ground for dogs that are not quite so cold, there is now also functional clothing for dogs made of hi-tech fabrics in the dog sector, which keeps you warm despite being thin and is at least partially water-repellent.

And of course, you also have the option of giving the dog an “onion look”. For example, you can put on a dog sweater, over which you can layer a wide dog coat or a rain jacket for dogs if necessary.

Of course, you should then make sure that the dog can still move freely and that his clothes don’t get too warm!

How thick or how much the dog coat has to be lined depends on how cold the dog is and in which situations it should wear the coat. An older greyhound needs a thicker feed for a leisurely walk in winter than a young Great Dane when romping around.


Winter dog clothing should be tight enough to actually retain warmth in the coat. If the coat flaps too much, textile folds and openings will form again and again, allowing heat to escape (and snow to get in on low-lying dogs!).

In addition, the coat should be long enough to cover the dog’s kidneys and preferably also the croup. A bolero jacket that is too short is not much good as functional clothing.

And the winter jacket has to be practical and quick to put on! Especially with older dogs with joint pain or fidgety dogs, you don’t want to have to drag your dog around for several minutes several times a day until the clothes are finally put on and taken off again.

If that is a criterion, you can roughly choose between two ways of dressing the one that suits your dog better:

  • Some dog coats are pulled over the head and closed with a belly strap.
  • Some dog coats are placed over the back and attached to the dog with a chest strap.

The jacket for the dog should fit well all around to avoid chafing. The skin should not be in contact with cold metal buckles and no webbing should be directly behind the armpits.

The dog must be able to move freely and breathe freely. The coat must not be too tight at any point and the legs, neck, and tail must remain free to move.

Many dog ​​coats have flat rubber straps to fix the coat to the dog’s hind legs and prevent it from slipping, even during excessive movement.

A band around the tail should not be an option, of course, dogs find it uncomfortable. These straps can also become very uncomfortable for the dog if they are too tight against the skin (due to the epilator effect, among other things). In my experience, however, these bands wear out pretty quickly, which makes them more bearable for the dog.

Abdominal protection

For most dogs, the back is one of the most hairy parts of the body.

Cold penetrates mainly through the less hairy and wet belly. One of us hasn’t wished for a dog shower in the entrance when he has to free the dog from the dirty and wet winter mud several times a day.

Therefore, one should consider whether the dog coat should have a closed belly flap. This not only ensures that the dog stays nice and warm, but also protects the peritoneum from dirt.


There are dog coats with wide neck openings, foldable collars, and actual turtlenecks.

In my experience, a collar on the dog coat is quite practical on wet days, but not necessary for all dogs.

Very cold dogs with long bare necks, such as short-haired terriers, pinschers, and greyhounds, usually like very high collars.

Since the collars on multi-layered dog coats are usually also lined, you have to make sure that such a collar doesn’t open too much like a funnel at the front, especially on dogs with short legs.

Then snow collects in the ruff and the lining softens.

Hoods on the dog coat

Toy dogs are often dressed in clothes for fashion reasons. This is often based on human clothing (partner look and so).

One of the outgrowths of this phenomenon is hoods on dog coats.

Please do not buy your dog such a “fancy” dog coat that makes him look like a small person. YOU are not doing him any favors!

The hoods serve no purpose and only babble around your dog as a wet bib on the neck. Even if they are cut in such a way that you could actually put them over your head, dogs find that more than horrific.

And I find it quite macabre to think that many anorak hoods on dog coats have fur trimmings. Just like with cheap human clothing, nobody knows at first glance what was sewn together in Asia. The word “dog coat” takes on a whole new meaning…

Compatibility with dog harnesses and collars

You should think about this beforehand!

If the dog is to be leashed on the collar in winter, this must of course not be covered by the collar of a winter coat.

If the dog is to wear a harness, you have the option of choosing a tight-fitting dog coat with no buckles or fasteners in the way and then simply pulling the usual harness over the dog coat.

Please make sure that the dog’s armpits are not constricted.

In my post about the optimal fitting of dog harnesses, I listed a few criteria for the correct fitting of dog clothes that should also be used here.

Many manufacturers have now recognized this need and have planned special openings on the back of their winter coats through which the dog can be leashed.

There are also winter coats with integrated harnesses, but this solution hasn’t really convinced me yet because it doesn’t suit every dog ​​so well overall.

When it comes to leash rings directly on the dog coat, I have a problem with trust in terms of the tear resistance of the materials under load. Sure, I’ve already leashed a nice little poodle directly to the coat, but I don’t think that’s a smart idea for a young, impulsive German shepherd.

Overalls and trouser legs

Some dogs are so cold in winter that they have to be wrapped up warm all over so that they can make the “big round” even in winter.

That is why there are also dog coats with legs up to the paws.

These coats not only keep you warm, but they also ensure that no snow can get caught in the fur of the dog’s legs.

You should only make sure that the cuffs are wide enough not to constrict the blood, but also tight enough that no snow gets into the trouser legs when running.


Yes, some dogs can and should wear a winter coat.

  • Small dogs, dogs with little “substance”
  • Dogs without an undercoat, naked dogs, groomed dogs
  • Young and old dogs
  • Dogs with skin problems
  • Dogs in training breaks
  • Dogs that have to stand or wait a lot in the cold
  • Dogs that are cold

Coldness in the dog is easy to recognize. Typical signs include :

  • Tremble
  • Cold ears and paws
  • cold skin
  • A stiff and “contracted” gait

When buying a dog coat, you should pay attention to a few details:

  • How much feeding does your dog need?
  • How long does the dog coat have to be?
  • Do I want abdominal protection?
  • Do I want trousers legs or a dog overall?
  • Does my dog ​​want a collar?
  • Does a harness have to fit under or over the dog’s coat?
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