We tend to assume that all dogs are just naturally great swimmers. And most are. But that doesn’t mean that a dog who finds himself in a difficult situation in the water will be able to stay afloat or swim to safety. Just like a great human swimmer, dogs can and do find themselves in difficulty in the water. And just like people, they are at risk of drowning when things go wrong.
Life jackets designed especially for dogs remove this risk. While your dog is not likely to need a life jacket if he’s just splashing around on the shore at the beach or in shallow water, if you take your dog out on a boat, or further out to sea, lakes or rivers, or anywhere when conditions might get rough, a life saving life jacket is as important to think about for your dog(s) as it is for the humans in your family.
If you’re buying a life jacket for your dog, you want to get a good one. A poor quality life vest is as good as no life jacket and if a dog gets into trouble in the water, you’ll want to know you can rely on that jacket to help save her life. So a good quality jacket is really a one off purchase that will serve your dog for his or her entire life. Taking the time to find the right one is well worth the small amount of effort. I’ve made it easier for you by looking over what’s out there, what works, what people like and what they don’t, and present it to you in this guide based on my own extensive research.
2 bright colors for max visibility
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Kurgo Surf n’ Turf
1 bright color: Red
Doubles as a raincoat
Flotation layer is removable
Breathable mesh underneath
XXL size for 90+ lbs dogs
Ruffwear K-9 Float Coat
Robust top handle
5 bright colors
Two top rescue handles
3 models to choose from
Multiple bright colors
Sizes XS to XL
Kong Aqua Float
Brand known for quality
Bright handle easy to see in emergency
2 bright colors
Life vests for dogs are these days as advanced and fully featured as human life jackets. Gone are the days of a simple float attached to a strap (although these are still available.. but won’t be recommended here). This is good news. It means the best flotation technology has made its way to dog accessories and this only means one thing: increased safety for your dogs in the water.
While all of the life vests in this guide have much in common with each other, it’s the smaller and less noticeable features that will eventually sway your purchasing decision.
Which one is right for your dog? There is no right or wrong answer; in fact, unlike most other guides I’ve written for other types of doggy products, the high quality level amongst these coats covers them all. That’s why I’ve gone to great lengths to try and point out all the little and big things about each of the products, so that you can determine what you like and don’t like – and so your dog can have his or her new life jacket ready to go on exciting adventures 🙂
EzyDog Doggy Flotation Device (DFD)
This is a lot more than your average life jacket. Termed a “doggy flotation device”, it really is just that. Any dog wearing this can’t help but float.
The “handle” on top of the vest makes it easy to lift a dog out of the water as soon as you make contact. No need to try and grab her from underneath, or cause harm. You literally lift the dog up to safety like a shopping bag. Because the dog is lighter with the buoyancy of the water, you’ll usually be able to get a good amount of lift with the handle up to a height where you can then grab the dog more securely by the body and pull him completely from the water.
A good jacket needs to fit securely if it’s going to do its job. Although the best life jackets, like this one, are adjustable, you’ll still want one that has a good basic fit on the dog’s body as far as length and girth goes, and one that allows you to tighten the vest to a suitable level where there’s no chance it’s going to come loose. And needless to say, it’s vital that the jacket is able to handle the weight of your dog. Check out the table below for an outline of which size EzyDog DFD vest is the right one for your dog.
The EzyDog comes in 5 sizes so it does an excellent job of covering all dogs up to 90 pounds in weight. The sizes are:
Everything about the EzyDog has been designed with safety as the top priority. And that includes the color choices.
You won’t find a huge range of color options for this vest. Just two: yellow and red. These two colors have been determined to provide the absolute best visibility on the water. In addition to the basic color though is a reflective trim detail that makes the vest more visible at night.
How the vest secures to the dog’s body is another factor to consider. Some vests use velcro, and while tough quality velcro can be reliable, it’s never completely foolproof. The EzyDog does not use velcro attachments. This jacket secures with two adjustable soft neoprene straps which you run underneath the dog’s belly and then latch in with the snap on clips at the top. There are two of these, another excellent design decision that ensures there is not one potential point of failure (it’s also for the dog’s comfort and security as its these straps that must be adjusted to provide a secure fit); not that these excellent quality clips are likely to fail as they are solid and of top quality material.
The EzyDog is without a doubt at the top level of dog life jackets. As a flotation device designed from the ground up with safety and comfort in mind, a lot of thought has gone into every single design feature and this is reflected in its ability to provide maximum water safety for your dog.
This isn’t just a life jacket. The Kurgo is certainly designed to be a very effective life vest for the water, but it doubles as a coat with diverse uses including being used on regular walks, and as a warming coat in winter. It can also be used as a rain coat as the outer layer is polyester.
Like other high quality canine life jackets, the Surf n’ Turf comes only in a highly visible bright color (red in this case) and has a reflective trim to increase visibility in darker conditions and out on the water.
How does it manage to be a flotation jacket while also being suitable for a dog to run around in on dry land? Easy – you’re able to remove the flotation layer from the coat which turns it into a more comfortable, less bulky, jacket and raincoat. There’s an extra additional accessory available, the fleece lined Kurgo’s Wander Dog Coat, that is able to placed into the Surf n’ Turf as an extra warming layer which is useful if you live in a colder climate or just love early winter morning walks.
Like the EzyDog, the Kurgo life vest comes in 5 sizes so you are able to get a perfect fit for your dog. The jacket is then adjusted with the two straps that run underneath the dog’s belly, and securely clip in. The strap that goes along the front of the chest is secured with thick velcro. All of these straps are fully adjustable which allow you to fit the vest firmly according to your dog’s unique body shape.
A unique design feature of this jacket is the mesh underbelly section that provides better breathability for the skin.
There are 6 sizes of the Paws Aboard life vest, from XX-Small to X-Large. There’s no minimum weight restriction for the XX-Small size listed, although the dog must have a body girth of at least 11 inches which is a very small fit compared with some of the other jackets available. Those with the smallest dogs will want to look at this vest as a serious option.
At the bigger end of the scale, the XX-Large jacket can provide flotation support for dogs weighing 90 pounds and up.
Keep in mind of course, that it’s not just weight you need to consider when choosing the right size for your dog. Whether it’s this life vest or any other brand. Pay close attention to the measurements of your dog’s girth, chest and neck as provided by the manufacturer. Your goal is to find the size that most closely matches your dog’s unique body shape, size and weight.
The two straps clip on underneath the dog. Unlike the EzyDog, the Kurgo and some other vests I’ve talked about in this guide. Which design is better? There does not seem to be a consensus on one being better than the other, whether the clips secure on the side of the dog, or under the belly. From a balance and gravity perspective, having the buckles placed underneath the dog makes sense and helps to keep the straps firmly in place.
The handle on top of this jacket is one of the best we’ve seen. It’s strong, sturdy, a good length to give you a lot of room to grip it (important in rough conditions), and positioned slightly towards the front of the jacket so you’ll be able to lift the dog from the water in a way where the head is raised.
If your dog is sized in between two of the listed sizes (and most dogs will be), the company instructs you to select the smaller size of the two. You can then adjust the vest to fit securely. A jacket that’s too big will do more harm than good in a life saving situation on the water.
The Ruffwear jacket is designed not to impede your dog while she’s enjoying her swim. When fitted properly, the K-9 Float Coat allows the dog to swim in their completely natural position without feeling restricted.
This one has two handles on top, unlike most of the other life vests which only have one. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to which style is better. Both have their benefits: with 2 handles, you can obviously use both hands very easily, while the one large handle that most other life coats have allow you to use your strongest arm to lift the dog. The choice you make is solely based on your preference and where you’ll be using the vest most often.
For example, pulling in a dog form the water while you’re standing on a boat may be easier for some people if there’s two handles to grab, while if you’re on a canoe or paddle board, grabbing the dog by a single larger handle can make things easier.
Bright orange, bright pink and a funky bright orange fish style design are the style options you have – all are of course designed for maximum visibility
5 sizes are available. The four factors that will determine what size your dog needs are weight, length of the body, neck size, and chest size. This might sound difficult (and it’s something to consider for ALL of the vests on this page, not just this one), but the weight ranges are quite wide so you’re certainly not going to have to come up with a very specific calculation.
For example, the weight range for the extra small size is 10 pounds, while there’s a 30 pound weight range for the extra large sized jacket. Likewise, body measurements for each size give you a fair bit of range to work with and most people won’t have any trouble matching their dog to the most suitable size.
Additionally, the straps are highly adjustable with a lot of room to move under the dog’s belly when you tighten the straps so the jacket is on securely and comfortably.
The Outward Hound falls a little short in the quality department compared with most of the other life vests in this guide. The seams could be stronger, and it’s unlikely to last as long as some of the higher quality (and yes, more expensive) brands. With that said, for light use the Outward Hound jacket isn’t a bad choice. But for those who plan to use a life jacket on a dog regularly, or use it in more rugged conditions, you may be better off looking at some of the higher end options, particularly if you want it to be a long term purchase.
Kong Aqua Float
The Kong brand is well known and loved, thanks to its toys (how many dogs don’t have at least one Kong toy??). But they also make life vests for dogs
The strap buckles clip on on the side of the dog. For many people, this is preferable to some of the brands that have under belly buckle straps, simply because they are easier to access on the side. Safety wise, there is no difference, and the safety of the clips come down the quality of them. As you’d expect, the Kong vest is made of quality materials and the two connectors provide excellent security and support once you’ve tightened the straps appropriately.
The top handle is bright red, slightly padded, and wide enough to allow you to get a good grip in a difficult situation.
The trim on the coat is reflective, giving it extra visibility. The jacket itself comes in bright green or pink – two colors that are easily seen on the water.
The front chest section of the Kong life coat is adjustable with both velcro and a buckled strap. This gives you a very firm fit and provides a lot of adjustment leeway for various sized dogs.
EVA foam is used in the PlayaPup vest as the main floatation material inside the jacket. The outside is made of neoprene. There are 5 bright colors to pick from, and the entire jacket is colored from top to bottom. As an additional visibility measure, a reflective strap runs all the way around the front of the vest behind the dog’s head. The soft padded handle on top, and the two underbelly straps, are designed like a carry bag, allowing you to easily grab and lift your dog from the water if you need to.
The PlayaPup has a leash attachment at the front top of the jacket. You’d want this D-ring attachment to be strong, and unfortunately on some vests this isn’t the case. But on this one it is very well made, as is the stitching, so there’s peace of mind that it will hold up well.
If I had to give an award for the best named doggy life jacket, it would have to be the Body Glove. What better way to describe the comfort and fit of a quality life vest – fits just like a glove but over the whole body! But a name is one thing. It’s the quality and performance of the Body Glove that I care about.
The adjustable body straps buckle up underneath the dog’s belly. All sizes except XX Small and X-Small have two straps, while those two smallest sizes only have one underbelly strap. These straps are secured with both a buckle and velcro, making them very secure. It’s highly unlikely that one would fail, but it it did, there will always be a back up. This is a feature that isn’t seen on most other dog life coats.
There’s also a dual buckle and velcro strap at the front chest area. This double connection is a stand out point of this jacket, as most others have either a single velcro or single buckle connector in the chest position; which is usually more than adequate when it’s well made, but having an extra level of security there as the Body Glove does is certainly welcomed.
There are 5 color designs to pick from. They are all black as a base, and have a different bright color on top. Most of the other vests here are brightly colored all over. True, the bottom half of the vest is likely to be in the water most of the time and it’s the top that needs to be most visible, but this is just something to keep in mind if you do prefer a life jacket that is colored brightly from top to bottom.
Like all other good life vests, the Body Glove does have reflective parts on it for increased visibility on the water, at a distance and in darker conditions.
With 7 sizes from XX-Small to XXX-Large, the Body Glove will fit all but the very largest dogs. It has more sizes than most other life jackets available, which means the measurement ranges for each individual sizes are quite small. This means you should do an accurate measurement of your dog before selecting a size. Unlike almost every other dog flotation vest, the Body Glove doesn’t provide a weight guide as part of the size selection.
The company makes an important note about measuring up your dog for the Body Glove: it’s the chest measurement that’s most important of all. So match this one up first to the chart, and always measure around the widest part of your dog’s chest. Clearly, a good chest and body fit is going to make all the difference with how comfortable and safe the Body Glove is on your dog.
The Body Glove vest is made of high quality materials. The outside is neoprene, which is similar to the material used in human wetsuits. The buoyancy is provided by an EVA foam filling. This sort of foam has a heap of beneficial properties like thermal insulation and of course, buoyancy (floating) with minimal water absorption.
This material is often used in life jackets for people and is considered a top quality, safe and advanced material. Body Glove has spared in expense in using the best materials for the job of keeping your dog afloat in water.
A PFD (personal or pet flotation device) for dogs is a life vest for dogs. They are not however considered to be a life saving device but rather as more of a flotation aid. In other words, a good life coat will help a dog to stay afloat in water and keep their head above water. They will also make it easier to pull your dog from the water than if he were not wearing one.
There are no regulations and standards for canine life jackets, so choosing a high quality one that has a positive reputation is the best way to have the confidence that your dog is wearing something that you’ll be able to rely on in a time of need.
While most dogs are good swimmers, not all breeds or individuals have strong swimming skills, and some don’t like being in water at all. Older dogs, those with health problems, and the risk of hypothermia occurring in the water are all issues that can affect a dog’s ability to swim.
When & where should your dog wear a life vest?
How often and when you put a flotation vest on your dog will vary depending on your dog’s swimming confidence, breed, the depth and conditions of the water, and other relevant factors. Some people like to use a vest whenever the dog is near water, while other people will only put it on at certain times, such as when you’re far out from shore on a boat.
You probably wear a life jacket when you’re out on a boat. If not, you’re likely to have one on board somewhere. In many places it’s a legal requirement. But does your dog really need one as well? PFD’s for dogs have become a very popular item amongst boating enthusiasts, with some boating outlets stating how popular they are amongst customers. More and more people are making safety a top priority for dogs that are taken out on a boat – as it should be.
One of the big benefits of putting a life vest on a dog when you’re out boating is that, in the event of your dog falling (or jumping) overboard and finding himself in trouble, you can easily pull him up from the water, back into the boat, with the top handle on the jacket.
And the flotation ability of a good life vest will of course help your dog stay afloat, and keep her head above water. This is more so important if conditions are rough, or your dog becomes tired in the water.
Swimming: Some dogs aren’t naturally good swimmers. Bulldogs are one example of this. At the other end of the spectrum, lots of dog breeds not only love to be in water, but they’re naturally fantastic swimmers as well (which doesn’t mean they don’t require a life jacket at times – any dog can get in trouble in the water). So which dogs are good swimmers and what breeds are the ones you’ll want to be giving “swimming lessons” to (a PFD comes in great for this), and taking extra measures to ensure their safety when near water?
Excellent Swimmers and Water Loving Dogs:
English and Irish Setter
Dogs that can’t swim or don’t like water generally include low set and stocky dogs. Their short legs can make it difficult for them to get good movement in the water and maintain aquatic endurance. Dogs like this should always have a flotation device on when near deep water. They should also never be forced to swim or to enter water if they are fearful.
But just like people, every dog is unique and the above is a general guide based on the knowledge of most individuals of a breed, and the natural tendencies of certain breeds. Naturally, cross breed dogs can fall anywhere on the water-loving spectrum and only you will best know your own dogs attitude towards water and swimming.
Choosing The Right Flotation Vest For Your Dog
While the best life jackets for dogs are made to be comfortable and non-restrictive, it’s still important to get the right size both for safety and comfort reasons. This usually involves measuring both the weight and dimensions of your dog – although some only require that you measure up the length, middle girth and neck size. Every manufacturer provides a measurement chart, so simply go from there to match up your dog with the best sized jacket.
All of the vests I’ve listed in this guide are adjustable around the mid section, and the neck or chest.
This is done with straps and buckle attachments and, in some cases, velcro as well. Getting a good fit is so important if the jacket is to stay in place in the water and not impede your dog from swimming (which would entirely defeat the purpose of wearing a life vest at all).
Once you’ve put the vest on and adjusted it, observe your dog wear it and continue to make any adjustments as necessary until the dog is wearing it without it having any effect on their movement at all (both in and out of the water). That’s when you’ll know you’ve got the perfect fit!
Tips for using a life jacket
If your dog has never worn a life vest before (or any item of clothing), his reaction could be unexpected. Some dogs are afraid to put it on, while others have no fear at all. If your dog is hesitant or anxious about wearing the life coat, take it slow. First get her used to the new object. Leave it in view, and let her sniff it for a few days. She will quickly learn it’s harmless!
You’ll certainly want your dog to be comfortable and confident in the life vest before taking him out with it near or in water. So, wearing it around the home is the best way to remove the anxiety, with rewards of course given when all goes to plan.
If you have a swimming pool, you have an easy and controlled way of easing your dog into wearing the vest in water. If not, a shallow and calm lake or river shore is another good “practice” spot. As time goes on and confidence increases, encourage your dog to swim further and further from you (only when conditions are safe); throwing a ball or stick a short distance for retrieval is a good way to encourage this.
Every dog will learn at a different pace, but once your dog is happy, comfortable and confident in her life jacket, it will open up a whole new world of freedom, fun and safety.