While the answer is subjective, as a general rule of thumb, anything mid 40’s Fahrenheit (5° Celsius) and below merits a coat.
Don’t be shy to dress your pup up when you think he or she will be affected by the cold weather outside, it's the loving thing to do.
There are some truly stylish products on the market today, from dog jackets and dog coats, to matching hoodies, dog hats and name tags.
What determines whether my dog needs a coat?
1. Fur thickness
Some dogs have fine hair that doesn’t keep them warm during cold winter months.
Popular with dog owners that don’t have a lot of time for grooming or brushing out tennis ball-sized hairballs from their lounge suites, breeds with fine hair or thin coats make great inside dogs.
But while they seem to be adapted well to that spot in front of the fireplace, these dogs really struggle in icy conditions. So consider putting a coat on your dog if it has a thin coat of hair.
2. Dog breeds with short legs
Do you know what short legs are great for?
With shorter legs, some dog breeds can remain under the radar and get closer to their prey before being noticed. Their short legs also help them go down rabbit and fox - holes, digging deep underground in search of their target.
Do you know what short legs aren’t great for?
Snow and ice.
These dogs are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to staying off the cold, icy grass. Shorter legs often mean that their bellies come into contact with the snow when out and about, making them cold.
Top tip: Do some research on your breed of dog
Before deciding what pup to adopt as your next family pet, why not research their breed?
A quick Google search will tell you if your dog adapts well to the local climate, has any general health concerns, or needs a coat in the wintertime.
The American Kennel Club site (1) has several informative pages about almost any breed of dog and will tell you everything there is to know about your pup.
Animals with long or dense short hair won’t need dog coats to stay warm.
If your dog needs paw-tection from the cold in the winter months, buy them a pair of dog shoes with a soft fleece lining.
3. The age of your dog
Your dog's age can determine how quickly you should reach for a dog jacket or coat.
While it goes without saying that puppies should enjoy the warmth of a purpose-made bed or den, some senior dogs seem to be overlooked.
As a dog ages, they need some added help to keep warm. That’s because they aren’t as active as they once were. With less movement, they don’t generate as much body heat and thus need a jacket or coat to stay warm.
Aging dogs also sometimes suffer from health issues like hair loss or joint disease, which gives added motivation to get them a dog coat.
4. The climate
Suppose you’re fortunate enough to live in an area with a year-round hot climate like Phoenix, Arizona, or Miami, Florida. In that case, you probably don’t worry much about wearing a coat in winter months, do you?
And neither would your dog.
However, other places in the US are known for their cold climate and experience frosty conditions, even during summer months.
In some areas, the daytime temperature could be cool and bearable, but even without frost, the nighttime temperature will dip below that 40F.
If your area is known for extreme cold spells, consider having a dog coat on hand for your dog - just in case.
Top tip: Check for telltale signs that your pup needs a coat
When you’re cold, you shiver, and your teeth seem to chatter uncontrollably. All you want to do is cuddle up under a blanket, don’t you?
You avoid the outdoors and choose to shelter in a heated place.
The same applies to your dog.
Keep an eye on your dog's behavior, as they will clearly signal when things are getting too cold for them, especially when the temperature drops.
Some things to look out for include the following:
- Curling up into a small ball
- Lifting their paws up off the ground
- Uncontrollable shivering
- Whining or moaning
- A haunched posture when standing with their tails pulled in between their legs
If you notice one of the above behaviors or a combination of a few, your dog is likely screaming out that they’re cold and need a coat.
Further reading: How to keep your pets comfortable during Winter
When not to put a coat on your dog
Sometimes you just need to let a dog be and leave them as they are.
Here are a few of those times.
1. When they resist wearing one
If you put a coat on your dog and they do everything they possibly can to get out of it, there must be a reason.
Perhaps they have anxiety over the feeling of something hugging their bodies, or perhaps they feel too restricted in movement.
Some dogs will feel such anxiety when confronted with something like wearing a coat that they’ll run and hide when you even try to put it on them.
If they don’t warm up to the idea of wearing a coat or jacket within a reasonable amount of time, ditch it and try to keep them warm by some other means.
2. If they’re inside dogs.
If your dog enjoys the comfort of living indoors, you might not have to buy them a dog coat, even if there are freezing temperatures outside.
If your home’s temperature is regulated to between 70 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit, the need for your dog to wear a coat or jacket diminishes.
3. During summer months
Although dogs have sweat glands, sweat plays a minor role in their heat regulation.
During warm weather months, dogs regulate their body temperature by panting. This is an efficient way of getting rid of excess body heat for your dog, but it does cause a lot of stress on its respiratory system.
So do whatever you can to aid them in keeping cool.
One way to ensure they have enough ventilation is to go on short walks during cool evenings or early mornings and you guessed it…not put unnecessary clothing on them.
So make sure that you limit their coat or jacket wearing to winter months so that it does more for your dog than simply making a fashion statement.
Further Reading: Must-have pieces for your dog this winter and fall
Dog breeds that need some help to stay warm in Cold Weather
There are a few dog breeds out there that will almost certainly benefit from wearing a dog coat in cold weather.
Chihuahua - the tiny breed with a larger-than-life personality that hops when it barks. That’s how most people would describe these tiny dogs.
Because of their small frames and their short hair, they get cold very easily. Fortunately, their small frames also make it easy for them to wear coats in winter.
These small dogs are lovable and strike a chord with many dog owners. They have a beautiful coat that is adapted to water.
They are very clever and love to learn new tricks. They are also excellent swimmers.
However, a wet dog is also a cold dog. They often enjoy wearing a dog jacket to keep them warm.
The Italian Greyhound is a typical pursuit dog with a natural instinct to chase down its prey. They have a very slim build and very low body fat. They also have very short hair.
A combination of these physical traits means they get cold easily and benefit from wearing a winter jacket to keep them warm.
Dog breeds that thrive in Cold Weather
There are some dogs that just thrive during winter months. And that’s largely due to their overall body size and their thick coats that serve as natural heat insulation.
Here are a few breeds that wouldn’t need a synthetic coat.
Bernese Mountain Dog
This is a large dog breed, originating in the snowy Swiss mountains, where they were bred as working dogs.
They are known for being extremely patient and loving and incredibly tolerant of cold temperatures.
Their long hair and body mass help to keep them warm in very cold weather.
The German shepherd is another large breed of dog that adapts well to cold temperatures.
They are working dogs, often employed by special task forces and trained to protect their owners. What makes them special is their double coat.
German shepherds have two coats of fur. The first one is a layer of very dense short hair closest to their skin, and the outer layer consists of longer hair which keeps water and cold away from their skin.
This helps them endure cold temperatures.
Siberian Huskies are medium to large dogs that have been biologically conditioned to thrive in extremely cold climates.
Bred as sled dogs, this breed is extremely comfortable in the snow and will play outside for hours during winter.
With their thick, dense coats, they really struggle to regulate their body temperature in hot climates, even digging holes in the ground to lie in and cool down.
So if you own one of these beautiful dogs, you won’t ever need to put a dog coat on him.
Saint Bernard is a very large breed of dog.
They were originally bred to help locate people trapped in avalanches and are very devoted to their owners.
With their thick fur, they can withstand freezing temperatures for hours and thus have no need for a dog coat.
A final thought
Most dogs are able to adjust their body temperature naturally and don't need any help to stay warm or cool down.
But in some cases, a jacket or dog coat is just what is needed to keep their body heat regulated.
Keep a close eye on your dog's behavior. And if it seems like it needs a jacket to stay warm, get one that will fit comfortably and not restrict its movement in any way.
Afterall, a warm dog is a healthy dog.