It is common this time of year for people to suddenly think their dog needs an extra coat to go outside.
“Afterall, the pooch has to go outside to go potty and they are naked,” is how the mind might say it. “I would hate to have to go outside naked so therefore my doggo needs a coat.”
The next step is to go to the pet store. But hang on a minute. Does your dog really need another coat?
The short answer is some do, some don’t, and some may actually get colder in a coat as it can compress their under coat so it transfers more heat away from their body. Here are some guidelines for determining if your dog needs a coat.
First off, what is the dog going outside for? If they are just going out to make a deposit, the answer is almost always, no. If you are going on a long, brisk walk, some breeds may need a coat but most will not. If however, you are going on a so-called “scent walk,” where the pet directs the time spent outside and you just follow behind, then maybe some additional dogs will need a coat.
If your dogs are big sporting breeds, even those with very short hair and minimal to no undercoat, they likely will not need a coat as they are burning plenty of food energy to keep them warm. Even English pointers or Weimaraners will likely never need a coat unless on a leash.
If you own a retriever or water dog, and they are in and out of water, they may need some help but with a caveat. Once the dog returns to the blind and delivers the game, there can be long periods of time where they are just sitting still watching the sky just like their human hunting partner. They may benefit from a synthetic pile-type or sheep fleece mat to rest on. If it’s really cold, meaning below zero and they have to break ice to make a retrieve, it may also be beneficial to help dry their natural outer coat when they return.
Coming from a family of avid waterfowlers, we often hunted in below-zero temps along the Snake River in southern Idaho. When shots rang out, the dogs readily jumped in the river even as pop machine-sized blocks of ice tumbled along loudly. In-and-out, up-and-over, and sometimes getting washed downstream for half a mile was the norm for two dogs servicing four gunners. When they returned to the blinds, their outer guard hairs were often frozen but never was their substantial under coat.
We wiped them down and they quickly bedded into their mats we had; still they kept an eye on the sky and one on the hunter. The key here was two types of hair and the vigorous shaking they made exiting the water. It both got rid of water and fluffed their inner coat to trap more air against their skin.
Which breeds really need a coat, even for a casual walk? Chihuahuas and French bulldogs can’t easily generate and retain enough body heat to keep themselves warm. Short-legged breeds like Corgis need a coat. So too do greyhounds and whippets if they aren’t competing. And finally, older dogs that may have arthritis or a weak immune system need a coat.
As for coats, the fluffier the better and the length should be from back of the head to base of the tail also surrounding the belly. The key is to loosely cover the belly and neck, while letting the pooch move easily.
Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service. For questions or concerns about animals you’d like to read about, email email@example.com.