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6 Best Dog Life Jackets to Keep Your Pooch Safe Around Water

Updated: Jan. 25, 2024

Whether you're heading to the lake or the pool, water safety is a must for your pup. Here are the best dog life jacket options for your pet.

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With warm summer days just around the corner, water sports appeal to both humans and many of our dog companions, too. Several dog breeds willingly plunge into lakes, rivers, ponds or pools. Others might feel reluctant to indulge in water sports, or need encouragement. Unless you limit your dog’s water play to running through the sprinklers, you’ll need to keep them safe with a dog life jacket.

Yes, dogs instinctively know how to swim. But some breeds don’t float, and can quickly drown. For instance, bulldogs have massive bodies and aren’t able to paddle well enough to keep their heavy heads and chests afloat. Dogs with lots of fur, like Shelties and Collies, get waterlogged and also have problems staying afloat. Even Labradors, Goldens and other dogs that love to swim get tired quickly if they can’t easily climb out. A dog life jacket gives you peace of mind—and life saving insurance—if your dog falls in the water, so you can easily retrieve your …er, uhm…retriever.

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Outward Hound Dawson Swim Blue Dog Life Jacket
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Best overall dog life jacket

Outward Hound Dawson Swim Dog Life Jacket

When you’re packing up for vacation, be sure a dog life jacket is one of the dog-friendly car items you bring. The Outward Hound Dawson jacket—available in three designs—is one of the most versatile, highly-rated and moderately-priced picks. The Dawson style (for warmth) helps insulate pets from cool water temperatures and works well for novice swimmers. The Grandby (maximum buoyancy) supports beginners to experienced swimmers by keeping them afloat.

The Standley (a sporty style) boasts a top ring for leash attachment and a mesh belly band for quick water drainage to keep dogs comfy both in and out of the water. All styles come in five sizes—x-small to x-large—based on the girth and weight of your pup, as well as seven neon colors featuring reflective piping designed to stand out in the water for easy rescue.

Pros

  • More than 26,000 five-star reviews on Amazon
  • Three design styles for novice to experienced swimmers
  • Five sizes
  • Seven neon colors with reflective piping
  • Rescue handles
  • Durable, lightweight ripstop nylon construction
  • Reasonably priced

Cons

  • Leash attachment only available on the Standley design

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Vivaglory New Sports Style Ripstop Dog Life Jacket
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Best budget dog life jacket

Vivaglory New Sports Style Dog Life Jacket

When staying at a dog-friendly hotel, it’s important to verify whether your furry companion is permitted in the pool area. If allowed, the Vivaglory New Sports dog life jacket provides an affordable choice in 12 vibrant colors and five sizes (x-small to x-large). The jacket’s neck design is enhanced for comfort, allowing dogs to swim naturally.

It boasts 50 percent more “floatation” material than many other styles, while its bright colors feature reflective trim for optimal visibility. Made from durable yet lightweight ripstop material, it offers the perfect balance of sturdiness and comfort. Reviewers note that this dog life jacket is especially well-suited for short-legged dogs like corgis, as it provides a less bulky fit.

Pros

  • Economically-priced
  • Lightweight ripstop material with rescue handle
  • Open-style neck for comfortable movement
  • Design allows for easy on/off
  • 12 fun colors
  • Five sizes
  • Style works well on short-legged dogs

Cons

  • No chin flotation for dogs that need help elevating their head out of water

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Dog in a ruffler life jacket at the beach
Nancy Snyder/RD.com

Best splurge dog life jacket

Ruffwear Float Coat

The Ruffwear Float Coat dog life jacket may be pricier than some alternatives, but its quality materials and excellent design are well worth it. The extra-soft padding wraps snugly around your dog’s body, providing a comfortable fit that permits a more natural swimming position. The telescoping neck closure allows for custom adjustment, and the buckles fit into sheltered pockets to prevent accidental opening during use. Unlike some other jackets, the material won’t stretch out once wet, so the fit remains true.

Nancy Snyder, Senior Shopping Editor of The Pet Collective, is a fan. She says: “I tried a few different brands before I found the perfect fit with Ruffwear. My pit bull mix, Ernie, has a broad chest that requires a larger fit, but a shorter torso resulting in most vests being too long for his body. The Ruffwear Float Coat has a shorter, more comfortable fit that does not hang off of his back or cut into his groin area.”

Pros

  • Quality materials
  • Excellent design
  • Adjustable neck
  • Sheltered buckles for secure fastening
  • Material won’t stretch when wet
  • Six available sizes (xx-small to x-large)

Cons

  • More expensive than other options

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Surf N Turf Dog Life Jacket
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Best life jacket for active dogs

Kurgo Surf ‘n Turf Dog Life Jacket

Designed by a company specializing in canine outdoor adventures, the Kurgo Surf ‘n Turf dog life jacket is an excellent choice for active individuals who love exploring with their furry companions. This dog life vest features two metal D-rings for leash attachment, allowing for a seamless transition from hiking to water play. Two transverse handles on the back provide a safe and secure grip for lifting Fido out of the water if needed.

The athletic design not only looks stylish with reflective piping for added visibility, but it also provides ease of movement in and out of the water. Made from durable ripstop material and a neoprene liner, it features three points of adjustment for a secure chest, neck and belly fit. And FYI: If your active dog takes a nap on the way home, consider using a car hammock to keep your seats dry and clean from water and mud.

Pros

  • Special features designed for athletic dogs
  • Two metal D-rings for leash connection
  • Transverse safety handles to retrieve the dog from water
  • Fitting video, plus help call line to best fit your dog
  • Lifetime guarantee against manufacturing defects

Cons

  • Only two color options

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Stunt Puppy Float Doggy Life Jacket
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Best dog life jacket for big pups

Stunt Puppy Float Doggy Life Jacket

The Stunt Puppy comes in four fashionable colors and eight sizes from xx-small to x-large. There’s also a “wide” size for barrel-chested pets like bulldogs that are notoriously difficult to fit (and at high risk for drowning). It is one of the few available options that fit large dogs with a girth measuring up to 47 inches and weighing up to 180 pounds.

The vest’s articulated chest and belly panel keep both your dog afloat and his heavier chest area elevated, while aiding ease of movement in the water. The jacket also features a rescue handle to bring your dog safely out of the water if needed. Plus, independent front and rear fasteners allow for an ideal fit.

Pros

  • Fits jumbo size or barrel-chested dogs
  • Comes in four colors
  • Eight sizes available
  • Sizing charts for both weight and body measurements

Cons

  • Higher end of the price range
  • Some reviewers note light chafing under their dog’s forelegs

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Zippypaws Adventure Dog Life Jacket
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Best life vest for small dogs

ZippyPaws Adventure Dog Life Jacket

It’s important to ensure the safety of your small dog during travel with a secure carrier. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, you can both enjoy some water fun with the ZippyPaws Adventure Dog Life Vest. This dog life vest is available in some of the smallest sizes on the market, making it perfect for new puppies or tiny adult dogs.

With six sizes ranging from xx-small to x-large, the smallest size fits a girth of just six to 10 inches. The affordable price means you can buy the right size for your puppy without breaking the bank, and replace it as they continue to grow. The high-quality materials provide peace of mind for taking your new swimmers, reluctant floaters and clueless adult pups out for some water fun.

Pros

  • Fits the tiniest dogs
  • Very affordable
  • Six sizes for small to medium dogs
  • Perfect transitional jacket for growing pups
  • Rescue handle to lift tired dogs out of the water

Cons

  • May be difficult to fit some dog body shapes

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What to consider when buying a dog life jacket

The most important factor to consider when purchasing a dog life jacket is the fit. With more than 400 recognized breeds worldwide, each with its own unique size and body shape, it’s crucial to find a life jacket that suits your dog’s individual needs. The jacket should fit snugly, without restricting movement or allowing the dog to escape from it. It’s essential to choose a product that doesn’t stretch when wet to ensure consistent sizing.

Instead of relying on the dog’s weight, focus on their body shape, which can vary significantly. Some dogs have long tubular torsos, while others have barrel chests and narrow waists. Follow the product instructions for accurate measurements, typically involving the dog’s girth (around the chest behind the front legs) and neck. Look for jackets that offer adjustable straps to fit these important areas. If your pup falls between sizes, it’s better to choose the larger size and tighten the straps as needed.

Additionally, opt for a dog life vest in a bright color to easily spot your pet. Handles on the back of the jacket provide a means to control your dog or rescue them from the water if they become tired or panicked.

Evaluation criteria

As shopping experts, our only job is to help you find a winning product. We start with the research and reporting basics—what products are made of, what they look like and how much they cost—to ensure that we’re only recommending the buys that are worth your time and money. Then, we research the features that speak to the product’s quality, taking advice from industry insiders and subject matter experts on what makes a product a smart value (or worthy of a splurge). Finally, we do the work of combing through user reviews to see how real people interact with the product, and if it stands up to the test.

FAQ

Should dogs wear a life jacket?

Yes, dogs should absolutely wear a life jacket, as some breeds are at a higher risk of drowning. It is one of the most important dog summer safety issues, along with staying cool and properly hydrated on the go. While dogs know how to “dog paddle,” and most can stay afloat for short periods, they can easily tire and struggle to get out of the water, putting them at risk of drowning. It’s important to note that life jackets are not a substitute for proper supervision. Dogs should never be left alone near water, just like a two-legged child, to ensure their safety.

How do I choose a dog life jacket?

Select a product that suits your dog’s body shape and lifestyle. For instance, if you have a first-time swimmer or a puppy who simply needs a confidence boost while you supervise, a flotation aid might suffice. However, if you engage in activities like river rafting or kayaking with your canine companion, opt for a life jacket designed for active dogs. These jackets are specifically made to allow unrestricted movement and include important safety features such as a handle on the back for easy rescue situations.

How should a dog life jacket fit?

Measure your dog according to the product specifications. Usually, that includes the neck size and the girth (around the chest right behind the front legs). If you have questions, especially for short-legged dogs or barrel-chested dogs with narrow waists, contact the manufacturer for sizing help before you order.

Do dog life jackets help them float?

Yes, dog life jackets include flotation materials that increase the dog’s buoyancy. Some include a float-able chin rest to keep their head above the surface, which is helpful for dogs shy of the water.

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