Best Dog Life Jackets

Updated November 2021
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Buying guide for Best dog life jackets

Whether you take your pooch out on a boat or just enjoy playing with him in your backyard pool, water activities can be great exercise for your dog. But if your pet falls in the water unexpectedly, he’s at risk for drowning, just like a human — which is why investing in a dog life jacket is so important.

A life jacket for a dog is similar to a life jacket for a human. It’s a wearable vest-like item that helps your dog stay afloat. Most are designed to make it easier for you to grab your pet if he needs help. In addition, a dog life jacket can help make your dog more visible in the water.

Because it’s such an important safety device, choosing the right life jacket for your dog is crucial. Size, buoyancy, and the type of material with which the jacket is made are all important considerations.

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Life jackets are particularly vital for the safety for older dogs, dogs with health issues, dogs with poor mobility, and dogs with a low percentage of body fat.

Key considerations

Size and fit

Getting a life jacket of the right size is crucial for your dog’s safety. It should fit snugly, so he can’t shimmy or twist out of it. However, it shouldn’t be too small, or it won’t be buoyant enough to keep him afloat.

The jacket should fit comfortably enough that your dog’s head and necks have full range of motion. He should be able to sit and lie down without any issues. He should also be able to urinate or defecate without you having to remove the jacket first.

Generally speaking, you should avoid dog life jackets that are “one size fits all,” as there’s a good chance that a jacket like this would be too large or too small for your pal. Instead, opt for a product that comes in multiple sizes, and choose the size that best adheres to his measurements. The sizing chart provided by the manufacturer should include a weight range for each size as well as specific measurements for length, height, and girth.

Buoyancy

To keep your dog afloat, a life jacket needs the right amount of buoyancy. Most dog life jackets have foam padding for this purpose. The padding may be located along the back and sides of the jacket as well as under the belly. You can find life jackets with extra padding in the neck area to help keep your dog’s head above water.

If your dog is particularly heavy or an extremely poor swimmer, it’s especially important to choose a life jacket with as much floatation padding as possible.

Material

Dog life jackets are made from materials similar to those of human life jackets. The material should be lightweight so it doesn’t weigh your dog down when it gets wet, but it should also be durable and sturdy enough to help him float. Ripstop nylon is an ideal option, but polyester and neoprene can be good, too. 

Features

Color

The color of your dog’s life jacket may seem like a minor point, but it can actually be extremely important. Bright colors like yellow, orange, and hot pink are easier to spot if your dog falls into the water than darker colors.

Reflective strips

In addition to a bright color, it’s wise to choose a dog life jacket with reflective strips. If your dog is in or around the water after dark, the strips reflect light so you can spot him even in poor lighting conditions.

Adjustable straps

A dog life jacket with adjustable straps is easier to put on and take off than a solid piece of fabric. The straps usually feature Velcro or buckle closures so you can tighten the jacket for a precise fit.

Handles

If your dog falls in the water and panics, you want to get him out as quickly as possible so he doesn’t tire himself out. Many life jackets have handles at the top that are easy to grab if your dog is struggling or underwater. You can also use the handles to help older dogs who might have mobility issues.

Be sure to choose a life jacket with sturdy, heavy-duty handles that are strong enough to support your dog’s weight.

Leash attachment

If your dog is particularly heavy or swimming in rough water, it may be difficult to use the handles to lift him. Some life jackets have a loop at the top where you can attach a leash. Using this attachment, you can hold onto your dog until help comes along to assist you.

Insulation

Dogs often have a difficult time adjusting to the temperature of their environment. If your pooch is swimming in cold water, it may be an unpleasant experience for him. Some life jackets are insulated to keep your dog warm, even if the water is chilly. Consider this feature especially if you tend to take your dog out at night when the water is colder.

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Caution
Even if you’re using a life jacket, never allow your dog to swim without supervision.
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Dog life jacket prices

Dog life jackets vary in price based on size, material, and features. Most dog life jackets in a medium size cost between $12 and $67. Between $12 and $47, you’ll find the most affordable models. These may be made of polyester with just a few special features, such as a safety handle or reflective strips.

From $27 to $42, you’ll find mid-range dog life jackets made of neoprene or a neoprene and polyester combination. These jackets may have a few special features, such as safety handles, reflective strips, and/or extra floatation padding.

The most expensive dog life jackets cost between $42 and $67. These are typically made of ripstop nylon and have a variety of special features, such as safety handles, reflective strips, extra floatation padding, insulation, and/or a leash attachment.

The prices above are general estimates for dogs who wear a medium life jacket. Bear in mind that a larger dog may require a slightly higher investment.

Tips

  • Not all dogs enjoy the water. If your dog isn’t a fan, don’t force him to go swimming —  even if he’s wearing a life jacket.
  • It’s important to get your dog used to wearing a life jacket before taking him out on a boat or swimming in rougher bodies of water. Allow him to wear the life jacket in practice sessions in a pool or calm lake.
  • As with children, if your dog is going to be near water, he should always wear a life jacket. Even if you don’t think he’ll go in the water, it’s best to be prepared in case an accident occurs.
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You usually need to measure around the widest part of your dog’s rib cage, the length from the base of his neck to the base of his tail, and around his neck to help choose the right life jacket size.

FAQ

Q. Are dog life jackets regulated by the U.S. Coast Guard like human life jackets are?
A.
No. Dog life jackets aren’t regulated by the U.S. Coast Guard, so there aren’t any specific safety guidelines that they must meet. If you’re concerned about choosing a safe jacket, talk to other dog owners to get their opinion. You may even want to consult your veterinarian. 

Q. How can I get my dog used to wearing a life jacket?
A.
To get your dog comfortable with his jacket, allow him to wear it around the house for brief periods. Once he grows accustomed to the feel of it, you can start training sessions in a pool or calm body of water. Wait until your dog is comfortable wearing it in the water before letting him swim or boat in rough conditions.

Q. What’s the best way to wash a dog life jacket?
A.
Always check the manufacturer’s instructions to learn the best cleaning procedure for your dog’s life jacket. Some models are machine washable, while others should be washed by hand with warm water and mild detergent.

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