Should Old Dogs Wear Coats? What You Need to Know

When summer turns to fall, where can you find most of us? Pulling out our winter clothes in a bid to stay warm. What about our dogs? With all that fur, you wouldn’t think they have any need for a coat would you?

In my experience, old dogs should wear coats when out walking in the colder weather. In many instances they could also benefit from wearing a sweater indoors.

I’ve shared my life with a lot of old dogs, and they definitely felt the cold more than their younger counterparts. I’m not a fan of dressing dogs up in outfits, treating them as if they were dolls or babies, but when it’s for practical purposes, I’m all for it.

Is it bad to put clothes on dogs?

It’s not bad when it’s done to protect dogs from the cold, wind and rain. It can be bad thing if your dog is unhappy with being dressed up, the outfit is too tight or presents a choking hazard.

At what temperature does a dog need a coat?

The general rule of thumb is – if you’re cold they’re cold. Having said that, dogs like the Siberian Husky were bred for working in the cold so wouldn’t benefit.

I see tons of people out and about in the winter in the UK where I live, and dogs of all breeds, ages and sizes are wearing coats. From Spanish born large breed mutts to Beagles, Greyhounds, Shih Tzus, Staffies and Chihuahuas.

Old dogs will feel the cold more than younger ones, so err on the side of caution, especially if it’s raining or snowing. Monitor him and notice if he seems comfortable.

According to an article on the Pedigree Foundation website –

• Over 45°F – no coat or sweater needed

• Below 45°F – Cold-averse breeds will need protection

• At or below 32°F – Small breeds, senior dogs and puppies will need a coat or sweater

• Below 20°F – all dog parents should be looking for signs their dog is too cold

This is just a guideline, but you know your dog and are the best judge.

I never paid attention to the number. if it was cool in the house, I knew Red needed a sweater. Sometimes that’s all she needed to wear outside, but in the colder months I would often have to add a coat.  

How do you know if your dog needs a jacket?

We touched on this above in the paragraph about temperature, but here are 4 factors that will also help you.

• All old dogs would benefit from some level of protection while out on a walk

• Thin dogs like Greyhounds or Whippets

• Small dogs have shorter legs, meaning they are closer to the ground and likely to get wet and cold really fast

• Breeds with shorter hair, regardless of the size

Look out for signs your dog is cold

  • Shivering
  • Hold up a paw
  • Whining
  • Not interested in walking
  • Not behaving as he normally does on a walk

If you’re seeing any of the above, best to bring your dog home and try again when you’ve bought him a coat.

How long can a dog wear a coat or sweater?

You’ll will typically find they’ll need it for the length of their walk.

If your dog wears a sweater in the house, some may become uncomfortable after a few hours, others like Red can wear one for days without a problem.

Remove it after a few hours to give the body a chance to breathe, and brush his fur so it’s not shmooshed.

Be careful your dog doesn’t overheat.

My dog Red was a Chihuahua/Min Pin from Florida, so she loved the heat. When we moved to England I noticed she felt the cold, even indoors. She wore a thin sweater indoors for several months of the year, but I would take it off to give her a break.  

How to measure your dog for a coat

Using a tape measure start at the back of the neck and measure to the end of his back where the base of his tail is.

Most list the size in inches, cms or both, but sometimes it will just have an XXS, XS, S, M or L and you’ll have to eyeball it.

The best way to ensure you buy the right size is to bring your dog with you so he can try it on. If you can’t simply measure out a string or piece of wool to the length you need and put it up against the item to judge.

How to buy the right coat for your dog

If this is your first time buying a coat, you may be surprised by how many things there are to consider.

  • Do you want one with a hood
  • Fleece lined
  • Water proof
  • Water resistant
  • Removeable lining
  • Should it cover arms and legs
  • How easy is it to get on and off
  • Slit in the back for a leash if your dog wears a harness
  • Type of fabric
  • Colour/pattern
  • Price

You also should be aware of things that could get in the way or irritate your dog

  • Hanging zippers
  • A neck that is too tight
  • Is the Velcro on the flaps itchy
  • Is his mobility restricted when coat is closed

My dog Jack comes from an abusive background, so he can be unpredictable. There are times he’s okay having a coat put on, other times he’s not. When I shop for one, the most important factor for me is how easy it is to put on and take off.

If I’m going to have to fiddle it’s not right for our needs.

What if my old dog won’t wear a coat?

Even if you know a coat is the best thing for your dog, you can’t force him to wear one if he refuses.

Having said that, the one you’ve tried may be too complicated and require too much fussing and can be making him nervous. It’s also possible he’s in a bit of pain and all that fumbling is hurting him.

If you think that might be the reason, here is a link to a video on how to make the world’s easiest sweater. If you don’t know how to crochet, or have no interest in learning, find out if someone you know can do it for you. 

If that’s not the case or you’re not sure, how about a bit of training to help him get used to it!

Sitting on the floor or couch hold out the coat, let him sniff and give him a treat. Then drape it over him for a quick second, take it off and give him a treat. Next put it over his head, quickly remove it and another treat.

Do each step a few times until he’s comfortable, and don’t move on until he is. It may take some time so practice throughout the day for a minute or two each time. It’s okay if it takes a day or two, or more, before you can move on to the next step. Don’t rush or it could thwart your efforts!


Related question

Do dogs need winter boots?

That depends on where you live. If it’s just cold out then no, he doesn’t. If you live in a place that gets a lot of snow and there is ice on the ground then yes it’s a good idea.

Walking on salt is painful for a dog, it can burn his paws and can be dangerous if he licks it off.

Some dogs take to booties without a problem, many (like mine) won’t let you put them on no matter what you try. In that case a paw wax is the next best thing. This link is to an extremely popular brand called Musher’s Secret which dog parents are loving! (This is an affiliate link, which means if you buy something I may receive a small commission. This has no effect on the price you pay, but will help me keep with website running).

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