This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I earn a small commission. As you know, I do my research when I recommend products! I have either used or would personally purchase any item I recommend in my review posts. I’m looking for quality, design, and comfort and not just the top sellers on sites like Amazon.
If you enjoy water sports like we do, or you have been wanting to encourage your pup to swim, then you’ll want to consider a life jacket for dogs.
Even the most enthusiastic swimmers can tire, fall out of the boat, or encounter surprise rapids or strong currents. By wearing a life jacket, your dog will be in a better position to handle these situations without mishap.
I’ve tried a handful of life jackets for dogs over the years and put together a list of my top picks.
Do Dogs Really Need Life Jackets?
If you engage in watersports, then it’s a wise idea to consider a life jacket for your dog. Like humans, they are designed to keep your dog afloat if they fall out of the boat or off your paddleboard suddenly.
They’re especially important if you bring your dog white water rafting or paddling in rapids. Even if your dog is a strong swimmer, rapids make swimming exponentially more difficult and a life jacket will help keep your dog above water.
Further, some breeds lend better to swimming than others due to their body shape and size. While Labs or Portuguese Water Dogs are natural swimmers, other breeds like greyhounds or brachycephalic dogs, along with senior pups will appreciate some extra buoyancy to help them stay afloat and swim for longer periods without tiring.
Lastly, they’re great for dogs that are not keen on the water or who just need some confidence getting their feet wet (pun intended ;). A life jacket can give them that confidence boost and help them learn how to swim safely.
When Should Your Dog Wear a Life Jacket?
If you’re playing fetch with your dog in the water or just letting them swim at a calm lake or river, then there’s probably not a huge need for a life jacket, however, if you are near swiftly moving water, on some sort of watercraft, or your dog doesn’t know how to swim, then a life jacket can keep them safe.
Here are some instances where I would recommend use of a life jacket for dogs:
- Stand up paddle boarding
- White Water Rafting
- River floating
- Boat trips
- Playing near rough waters
- When your dog is learning to swim
How Should a Dog Life Jacket Fit?
Your dog’s life jacket should fit similarly to the way a harness or collar would fit. You are looking for a snug fit, but you should still be able to slide two fingers underneath the straps. Make sure to check at both the belly and the neck/chest area.
I like to test the fit by picking my dog up by the handle on dry land to make sure they’re not swimming in the jacket (another pun!). If it feels too loose when you pick them up by the handle, then that’s an indication that you may need to make some adjustments.
Lastly, have your dog go for a swim and notice whether the jacket keeps their head above water well enough.
Features to Look for in a Life Jacket for Dogs
A quality dog life jacket will include a number of features that enable unrestricted swimming, ease of putting on, and secure fit, among other design elements.
Here is what I personally look for and recommend:
Ergonomic Fit – Your dog should be able to move freely and swim naturally, without restriction, while wearing the life jacket. If the jacket does not fit properly and the dog has to adjust their swim gait, it can result in discomfort and injury.
Softer, more supple dog life jackets will allow for this unrestricted movement, without compromising the buoyancy.
Bouyancy – Of course, the whole point of a life jacket for dogs is to keep them afloat! Ideally, you want a life jacket that incorporates flotation materials on the belly and chest/below the neck to help keep them above water more easily.
Handle – If your dog hops off your paddle or out of your boat to swim or falls into the water, you’ll want a handle to help them get back on. As much as he tries to climb back on to my board without help, Sitka can’t get back on without assistance (not to mention, it reduces damage from scratches).
Visibility – Look for a dog life jacket that comes in a bright color and features reflective material to easily spot your dog in the water. One of the top reasons people drown in man overboard situations is because their crew loses sight of them. If you can’t see your dog, you can’t help them.
Multiple adjustment points – Since dogs come in all different shapes and sizes, but gear only comes in a handful of sizes, adjustment points are key to getting the right fit for your dog. I look for adjustment points at the belly and around the collar. Measure twice and purchase according to manufacturer suggestions.
Top Picks for Life Jackets for Dogs
The jackets listed below all include the features I mentioned above and are made from reputable brands that produce high quality products. I personally have used two of the dog life jackets below and have used other products from each brand mentioned.
The price ranges from about $50 to $85, so get what fits in your budget or buy one on sale in the off season. 😉
Kurgo Surf ‘n Turf Dog Life Jacket – The One I Personally Use
This is the jacket I have used for years with several of my dogs of varying sizes. The Kurgo Surf ‘n Turf is easily adjustable to fit different dog body sizes and super easy to put on, thanks to the adjustable Velcro front strap that opens completely.
Two adjustable side straps create a snug fit around your dog’s belly and two handles enable you to easily lift your dog out of the water and back onto your board or the boat.
The jacket is lined with reflective piping so you can easily spot your dog at night and there are two metal d-rings to attach a leash if necessary (one of which features Kurgo’s customary bottle opener!)
If you want to just use the vest as an insulation layer for cooler nights at camp, you can remove the flotation device. The jacket is machine washable without the liner.
Ruffwear Float Coat – Best Overall Jacket
I’ve used the Ruffwear Float Coat with dogs in the past and I think it’s a great jacket! The latest models come in a variety of bright colors, which are not only fun, but also help you keep a good eye on your dog when they are in the water.
A soft and flexible inner foam layer keeps it comfortable for your pup and the sheltered waist and chest buckles keep the coat securely in place.
A low-profile handle is there when you need to lift your dog from the water and the fabric includes screenprinted reflection for 360° visibility. The Float Coat incorporates sustainable materials, such as the BlueSign approved fabric and the PVC-free Gaia foam.
NRS CFD Dog Life Jacket – Best Budget-Friendly Option
NRS is a well-known and respected brand in the water sports industry. Based out of Moscow, ID, my brother is a big fan having gone to The University of Idaho.
The tough 1000-denier Cordura shell is tough and can withstand years of use. Like the others, this jacket has a top handle to assist in lifting your dog onto the boat and includes reflective piping for easy visibility in low light.
The rear of the jacket includes a zippered pocket to store a leash or treats (though I’m not sure the pocket is waterproof).
I’m not a fan of the lack of padding on the dog’s belly, however. The straps have direct contact with the belly, which could lead to chafing, though I didn’t see any complaints about that in the reviews.
Astral Bird Dog Life Jacket – The Jacket I Think Would be My Top Pick, but Need to Test!
Astral is another brand like NRS that is well known in the water sports industry and makes a few items for dogs, including life jackets (my personal life jacket is made by Astral).
The Bird Dog Life Jacket was featured in Outside Magazine as Best Dog Gear of 2018.
The 500-denier Cordura fabric is highly resistant to scratches and abrasions. Dogs can swim in a natural position thanks to the ergonomic design, which doesn’t restrict movement.
A leash loop means that the jacket can double as a harness when needed and it also includes the handle for easy grip.
I love Astral for their commitment to create products completely free of PVC and their goal to reuse as many scraps as possible.
Reviews say that this jacket provides a more customizable fit than other brands and ideal in heavy water.
EZY Dog DFD X2 Boost – Best Ergonomic Fit
Now in its second iteration, the EZY Dog DFD offers superb flotation with an ergonomic fit. The latest model distributes the foam more evenly to provide better buoyancy. At 1680 denier nylon, this is one of the stronger jackets on this list.
EZY Dog designed this jacket with a top pull collar adjustment, compared to the side ones featured on the others on this list. The brand says that it only need to be adjusted once and it keeps the collar portion in place.
Looking for other gear guides? I’ve got you!
- Best Hands-free Dog Leashes
- Best Dog Crates for Car Travel to Keep Your Dog Safe in an Accident
- Best Dog Coats and Sweaters for Active Pups
- Best Biothane Leashes for Dogs