Dog coats: which breeds need them and how to choose the right one

Should dogs wear coats in cold weather? And how do you choose the best dog coat for your pet? Get the facts about dog coats.

‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’ goes the saying, and it’s certainly true that as a dog owner, you get used to going out, come rain or shine! But while it’s easy enough for us humans to make sure we’ve got the right kit for all conditions, it’s not always so simple when it comes to your dog. There’s a huge range of dog coats on the market – so should your dog be wearing one, and if so, how do you choose the right coat for your dog?

The first step is to decide whether your dog needs a coat at all. There are no hard and fast rules about this, as a dog’s ability to tolerate cold will depend on their breed, age and condition. In a relatively mild climate like the UK, a fit and healthy dog with reasonably thick fur will generally be fine outside even in the colder months, provided they stay active. But some dogs do benefit from a dog coat in winter, especially shorthaired dog breeds.

Dogs with very fine or thin fur (think Greyhounds and Whippets) or coats that tend to soak up water (such as Cocker Spaniels and Cockapoos), and dogs whose shorter legs mean their bellies are close to the ground (Dachshunds, say, or Corgis) could well benefit from wearing a coat to help them cope with colder conditions. The same goes for very young dogs, elderly dogs, dogs that are underweight and dogs that are unwell or have a weakened immune system.

If you’re not sure whether your dog needs a coat in cold weather, the best way to tell is by watching them. Shivering and shaking is the most obvious way of saying ‘I’m too cold’, but look out, too, for a hunched posture and tucked tail, slow movements and whining or crying. The longer your dog stays outside, the further their body temperature will fall. So, during very cold conditions, you might not only want to consider a dog coat, but also to take your dog out for shorter, more frequent walks to help them get the exercise they need. And remember that on those days when it really is too bleak to go outside for long, there are plenty of other ways to keep your dog stimulated and entertained.

There is a wide range of coats available to suit every dog, activity level and budget. Follow our quick guide to choosing the one that’s right for your pet.

  • Look for a dog coat that you can get on – and off – with a minimum of fuss. If your dog is a wriggler, Velcro fastenings can be a godsend. Zips are trickier to use but stronger, and also less likely to snag or get caught in your dog’s fur. Leg straps will help keep the coat in place if your dog is very active.
  • Exercise is still important for your dog in the colder months, but that can often mean you end up walking them in the dark. So, it might be worth looking for a coat with reflective panels to increase your dog’s visibility in low light conditions.
  • Washability is another consideration, especially if your dog is the type that likes to get wet and muddy (is there any other kind?!) Look for material – like a wool or polyester mix – that you can throw in the machine at the end of a muddy walk.
  • In very cold conditions, a fleece-lined dog coat will add warmth and comfort. Or look for a coat with extra padding for added insulation. At the milder end of the weather spectrum, an unlined shell can offer some protection against the elements, including wind and light rain.
  • Dog coats come in a range of different styles, as well as different materials. Jacket-style coats will cover your dog’s stomach and thighs, plus their chest and shoulders. These are a particularly good option for small or short-legged dogs whose bellies are close to the ground. Blanket-style coats drape over the shoulders and back, and are more suitable for taller dogs that don’t need the extra warmth around their stomach and underside. You can also buy coats with sleeves, for dogs that really feel the cold.
  • In the UK, dogs are unlikely to need paw coverings, unless the thermostat drops below around -5°C. Their paws will get cold in winter, but it’s best to let them warm up gradually. Don’t be tempted to plunge your dog’s paws into warm water after a walk – the extra throbbing can be uncomfortable.

A coat should cover your dog’s back from the base of the neck to the base of the tail. If it’s a jacket-style dog coat – that is, one that covers the belly, too – make sure it’s snug, but not too tight. You should be able to squeeze a couple of fingers between the coat and your dog’s skin.

The best way to ensure the right fit is to go and try a range of coats on your dog. But if you’re buying online, you’ll need to take some measurements: around their neck, around the widest part of the chest, and from the collar to the base of the tail. It might be useful to know how much your dog weighs.

Where to buy a dog coat

Dog coats are available from a range of retailers, from online stores and major chains like Pets at Home to some animal charities, such as Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. Look for stores that, ideally, offer advice and guidance to help you make the right choice.

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