Do Dogs Need Life Vests to Go Swimming?

Dog sitting on wooden pier in lake
Life jackets can help keep your dog safe.

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Life vests may initially seem like unnecessary accessories for a dog but they serve an important purpose, even if a dog knows how to swim. For dogs that spend time in or near bodies of water, wearing a life jacket could quite literally save their lives but not all vests are created equal or fit a dog properly. Knowing how to properly use a life vest is important for any dog owner who enjoys spending time by the water with their pup.

What is a Dog Life Vest?

Just like for people, life vests for dogs are garments that are worn over the chest that provide flotation when in the water. Life vests are made of bouyant, padded material that keep a dog afloat if they enter the water, plus they also have a grab handle and a D-ring to attach a leash to. These simple but important qualities are must haves for any effective life vest in addition to sturdy buckles to securely strap the dog in. A variety of colors and patterns can also help with visibility when in the water.

Choosing a Life Vest for Your Dog

There are many different dog life vest brands, styles, colors, and patterns that are available but a few key features should be taken into consideration before making a purchase.

  • Size - Typically the weight of the dog will be the primary factor in choosing an appropriately sized life vest but chest measurements should also be taken to ensure a proper fit. Life vest manufacturers often have measuring guidelines to help a dog owner choose the right sized vest for their specific dog. Tape measures are helpful in obtaining proper measurements but trying a life vest on is the best way to verify fit. Life vests should be snug but a dog should still be able to walk, run, jump, and most importantly, breathe without difficulty. If a life vest is too big, a dog may slip out of it.
  • Color - The color or pattern of a life vest may not seem like an important thing but if a dog falls into the water a dog owner will want it to have high visibility. Reflective tape is also a good option to have on a life vest if the dog spends time near the water at night.
  • Handles - If a dog falls into the water it may need to be lifted out so sturdy and well-attached grab handles are must-haves for any quality life vest.
  • D-Ring - A D-ring that's securely attached to a life vest is a good convenience to look for in a life vest. This ring will allow a dog owner to attach a leash to the life vest so that the vest doesn't need to be taken off and on when a leash is used.
  • Buckles - In order to keep a life vest on a dog it will need to have buckles. Buckles are better than snaps, hook and loop fasteners, or other attachment methods because they will securely lock into place and ensure the life vest doesn't come off the dog. They are typically also adjustable to achieve a proper fit.
  • Neck Float - Easily overlooked but a very important quality to have in a life vest, a neck float is a piece of life vest that provides bouyancy and support to the head. It attaches around the neck of the dog and is necessary to keep a dog's head above water.

Reasons a Dog Should Have a Life Vest

Many breeds of dogs are good swimmers but even confident swimmers can tire, get scared, or get pulled into a strong current. Just like a person, if a dog unexpectedly falls into water it may need some help keeping its head above water, especially if it is startled or frightened, and strong currents can pull a dog under water and cause them to tire more quickly. Life vests can help save a dogs life if any of these situations occur.

If a dog spends time on a boat, boat docks, near deep water, near water with currents, or is a breed that is not a good swimmer, a life vest is a good thing to have. Hopefully a dog never needs it but in the event that it does, a dog owner will be glad they had it and that they were able to keep their dog safe.