7 Best Dog Life Jackets of 2021 (Buyer’s Guide!)

Dogs may be famous for the classic doggy paddle, but if you’re out on the water, you can’t be sure they’ll listen to you. That’s why we decided to look at the best dog life jackets currently on the market and see which of them is the best.

One thing to keep in mind is that dogs come in enough shapes and sizes that no option is the best for every pup. That’s why these dog life jacket reviews cover the whole spectrum of companions rather than just options for one size or breed. As cute as extra small dogs might look in life jackets for XL dogs, they aren’t efficient products in situations like that!

In addition to our recommended product reviews, this guide will also include some information about selecting products, including their features, maintenance, and potential drawbacks. While you’re at it, be sure to check out our interactive resource for US drowning statistics, worldwide drowning statistics, and drowning prevention. Your dog isn’t the only one who should stay safe.

For now, however, let’s take a look at the top dog life jackets currently on the market.

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The Best Dog Life Jacket Reviews (Top Picks)

Are you looking for our top product reviews? You’ve found them! While this is a numbered list, the products below are not in any particular order, and the numbers themselves are not a ranking.

Ruffwear Float Coat

Ruffwear’s iconic Float Coat is one of the most popular options currently on the market, and with good reason. Aside from useful product features like variable sizes and color options, the closed-cell foam panels encourage a natural upright swimming position instead of simply allowing your dog to float.

This life jacket is exceptionally well-padded, focusing on keeping all straps away from your dog’s fur. The primary strap is an adjustable one for the neck, which also doubles as an additional place to hook things if needed. The low-profile handle on the back is exceptionally sturdy, too, which is particularly important for products like this.

However, the real value of this product is in the small details. With everything from places for lights and ID tags to a hook for attaching a leash, this personal flotation device addresses practically every situation. Overall, this is a product worth your first look.

Pros

  • Sturdy handle allows one-handed lifting
  • Closed foam cells support staying in (or returning to) an upright position
  • No velcro
  • The robust warranty covers all manufacturer’s defects

Cons

  • May not fit dogs with uncommon shapes
  • Chest straps may loosen a little during the day
  • The leash hook is not durable enough to handle dogs that pull particularly hard

Vivaglory Ripstop

Vivaglory’s Ripstop is a thoroughly-padded personal flotation device with some smart features to help it stay comfortable and practical. The key feature you should look at on this vest is the neck area, which has two padded layers for an easier fit and a sticky band that helps catch and hold dog hair.

This isn’t an issue for short-haired breeds, but for long-haired dogs, the band helps prevent hair from getting caught by the hook. That makes this vest significantly more comfortable to wear, and honestly, we’d like to see it on more products of this type.

The vests themselves are bright colors (mostly neons) and have a hook for the leash at the end of the handle strap. I don’t like the hook provided here. Plastic is a bit worse than metal, especially if the vest goes in corrosive saltwater a lot, so expect that part of the vest to have a lower lifespan on an active dog that tugs the leash a lot.

Pros

  • Does not restrict movement
  • Quick-release buckles ensure easy removal if needed
  • Reflective elements provide outstanding visibility
  • Has a 90-day warranty for testing

Cons

  • The leash hook is a little weak
  • Uses velcro
  • Not suitable for front-heavy breeds like bulldogs
  • Can be hard to get on

ASENKU Dog Life Jacket

Asenku’s dog life jacket is made of durable oxford nylon on the outside and pearl cotton foam on the inside, both of which dry quickly. Meanwhile, the under-chin front float provides extra support for keeping your pup’s head above water, which is easily one of the most important jobs of a personal flotation device.

The main highlight of this product, compared to some of the others on this list, is the bright design. I like the orange shark design the most because the tall fin sticks out of the water and makes a dog easy to spot. Even brightly-colored vests can be harder to see when they’re underwater, so the extra point of reference makes a big difference.

Otherwise, this is a reasonably standard dog vest, with the expected handle, D-ring leash hook, and velcro straps. ASENKU offers a robust sizing chart for their product, and the number of sizing options helps ensure a better overall fit.

Pros

  • Highly-visible shark and mermaid designs
  • Competitive pricing makes this more affordable on a budget
  • Holds its shape during extended use

Cons

  • The fin (on some versions) tends to flop over
  • Not buoyant enough for some breeds
  • Can get warm, which makes it harder to use on hot days

Outward Hound Dog Life Jacket

Outward Hound’s life jacket has a slightly unusual shape for products in this category, with a broader and stiffer spine. This isn’t solely a cosmetic choice, either, because the versions for dogs of medium size and larger have two carry handles instead of one. This is particularly useful for massive dogs, and not a standard feature, so it’s worth keeping in mind.

This product is also available mainly in orange and pink, rather than a full set of colors. That’s not inherently bad because both are visible colors, but it does mean your choices are limited if you want anything beyond the basics.

I do like the extra foam flap that goes over the neck area, which helps prevent hair from getting caught in the velcro. It’s a smart addition to a generally decent product, and the budget-friendly pricing helps make this one of the most popular options currently on the market.

Pros

  • More affordable than most other dog life jackets
  • Smart design choices help keep hair from getting stuck
  • Multiple handles on larger sizes
  • Only available in bright, easy-to-see colors

Cons

  • No dedicated leash hook
  • The sizing chart is not as accurate as it should be
  • Some small dogs may roll over in this

Hurtta Life Savior PFD

Hurtta’s PFD works for small dogs to large dogs, with the largest model suitable for dogs weighing up to 160 pounds.

There are two standout points of this product to keep in mind when deciding what to buy. The first is that this product has extra-thick padding while being lightweight, which offers better flotation in different environments. The second is that it’s one of the few products genuinely suitable for XL dogs.

Many manufacturers claim to have XL or even XXL sizes, but in practice, these aren’t big enough for Great Danes and similar large breeds. Hurtta’s life jacket is suitable for dogs with a chest of up to 44 inches, which includes most breeds.

Pros

  • More padding than many other products
  • The large handle is easy to grab
  • Suitable for breeds that many other products can’t handle

Cons

  • No leash hook
  • More expensive than most other dog life vests
  • May conflict with collars on some breeds

He&Ha Pet Dog Life Vest

He&Ha Pet’s life jacket includes two layers of closed-cell foam, which is more than products in this category usually have. It also has a belly foam panel that boosts underside flotation without increasing the risk of flipping over and being unable to get back upright.

A few other details of this product stick out. The silver trim is reflective and, therefore, easier to see in low-lighting conditions, while the improved chin float helps your dog’s head stay comfortably higher while they’re in the water. The handle is a thick add-on to the nylon strap, rather than being normal fabric, and has a textured pattern for easy gripping with wet hands.

Overall, this is a high-quality vest that fits most breeds well, and it’s worth a look if you’re interested in the most premium products.

Pros

  • Higher-quality materials than many competitors
  • Multiple layers of floating foam offer better buoyancy
  • It has an excellent chin float
  • The handle is impressively tough

Cons

  • Fewer sizing options than most competing products
  • Somewhat expensive
  • The chin float may not be suitable for breeds with larger heads

NRS CFD Dog Life Jacket

NRS’ CFD dog life jacket uses a Cordura nylon shell for the exterior, which makes it significantly more durable than most competing products. This matters for canines who enjoy swimming, mainly because you don’t know when they might end up rubbing against branches, rocks, or other things that could damage the vest.

Other features on this product include three adjustment straps to ensure a better fit (many competitors only have one or two) and flotation areas concentrated on the top to help avoid overheating. Unlike most of the products on this list, NRS uses an adjustable strap for the neck area rather than velcro.

The reflective safety tape is a smart (if common) choice, but the red coloring isn’t quite as visible in some conditions as, say, neon orange or bright pink would be. That’s a slight drawback on a generally high-quality product, although the sheer durability of this life vest can easily outweigh its flaws.

Pros

  • Significantly more durable than most other products in this category
  • Probably a better long-term investment
  • Four sizing options
  • It has a reasonably strong leash ring

Cons

  • Can be harder to put on and take off than most other vests
  • Won’t fit well if the straps start to loose
  • No chin support

Dog Life Jacket Buyer’s Guide (Knowing What To Look For)

All of the products you saw above are great products in the abstract sense, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good choices for your dog. Here are the things you should know before you make your purchasing decision.

Types Of Dog Life Jackets

Most dog life jackets look similar at first glance, so it can be hard to determine which ones are high-quality products by sight alone. There’s a simple reason for this: vests that deviate too far from the basic design are too heavy, uncomfortable, or unbalanced to use, so all products in this category are fundamentally similar.

However, there are a few different types of features you can find. Dog life jackets can have any combination of the following options, but these are the most useful ones to pay attention to.

  • Neck Strap Styles: Neck straps tend to be either velcro or side-adjusted straps. Overall, the straps are better because velcro tends to catch stray dog hairs, which can get uncomfortable for canines.
  • Outer Material: Most dog personal flotation devices use some combination of plastic and nylon cloth for their exteriors. However, not all nylons are created equal. Sturdy fabrics like Cordura have significantly longer lifespans than cheaper materials, making them more affordable over time.
  • Sizing Options: As all dog owners know, breeds come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. Some life jackets have fixed shapes that only work on certain breeds, while others have multiple straps to adjust the shape. This is especially important for top-heavy and front-heavy breeds.
  • Handle Style: The two main types of handles are cloth (usually the same nylon as the rest of the exterior) and rubber. Rubber handles tend to be better because they can have larger, thicker grooves that are easier to grab with wet hands in an emergency.
  • Drying Speed: This isn’t as important as the other factors, but some life jackets have a faster drying speed. These jackets already repel most water, but drying out quickly is useful if you want to use the same vest for another dog.
  • Colors: Dog life jackets are available in bright (i.e., neon and fluorescent), darker (i.e., red), and shaded (i.e., gray) colors. From a safety perspective, bright and reflective colors are fundamentally better because they’re easier to see.
  • Accessories: Accessories on dog life jackets are primarily decorative and include things like fins or tails. These can have practical use in making your dog easier to see while they’re swimming, so don’t underestimate their value. Other practical accessories, like lights or bags, tend to be sold separately.

The foam used for buoyancy is not a major factor to consider when buying a dog life jacket. Most dog life jackets are rated to support up to a certain amount of weight, but other than that, this detail has no major impact.

Buoyancy problems only tend to occur with non-standard breeds, such as those with unusually heavy fronts. In these cases, you may need to get additional flotation devices or adjust the life vest manually.

Manufacturers can’t give you warranties for any changes, but their customer service teams may be familiar with ways to adjust things for certain breeds, so don’t hesitate to contact them with any questions.

How To Put A Dog Life Jacket On

The exact procedure for putting on and sizing a dog life jacket varies by brand, so refer to the manufacturer’s instructions. However, most of them follow some version of the following guidelines.

  • First, put the life jacket over them using the handle. If yours doesn’t have a handle, try to grip it by the middle. Putting it on at an angle could be uncomfortable or ruffle your dog’s fur, and we don’t want them to associate any negative feelings with wearing the life jacket.
  • Next, attach it around the neck. This usually involves pressing velcro areas together or adjusting a clip or strap. The fit should be reasonably snug, but not tight enough to restrict their air supply regardless of how they move their head. Most neck-straps stay in place once set, but be sure to check it throughout the day.
  • After that, adjust any other straps. Many personal flotation devices for dogs have one or two straps around the chest and belly areas. You may need to tighten or loosen these to conform to your dog’s body shape.
  • Finally, give them a treat if this is their first time wearing it. This will help them associate positive things and rewards with wearing their life jacket, which can make them significantly more accepting of keeping it on.

Advantages Of Dog Personal Flotation Devices

The primary advantages of dog personal flotation devices are what you expect: They improve visibility in many environments and can help prevent dogs from drowning. This is important, especially for dogs who aren’t used to swimming or who have long hair that can get waterlogged and weigh them down.

However, there are a few other advantages to consider when deciding whether or not to buy one of these.

First, there’s a practical use to having a large handle that you can use to pull a dog around or get them in and out of the water. If you’re out on a boat, you may not want to lean over far enough to grab them with both hands and pull them in.

Second, some dog life jackets can hold bags or additional equipment, allowing you to turn your pup into a transport or light-holder. This is particularly useful if you’re going to go out on the water in areas that aren’t especially well-lit.

Finally, some dog life jackets double as coats and allow you to take the flotation parts off whenever you want. This is extremely useful if you live in areas with a lot of rain and can make it easier to go on walks. Most life jackets repel water extremely well and can dry off within minutes, making them ideal raincoats wherever you live.

Drawbacks And Disadvantages

There aren’t many true disadvantages for dog life jackets. Individual brands and models may have negative points, but in general, these products are worth buying and using if your dog wants to go swimming. However, for the sake of completeness, let’s look at some of the problems these products can have.

First, fitting the life jacket may be difficult. As mentioned earlier, dogs come in so many shapes that it’s difficult to make a product that truly fits them. The best products have at least two straps for adjustment so you can make the life jacket straight or move it into a sort of wedge shape.

Similarly, the straps and pads could get in the way for some breeds. Ideally, your life jacket will not impede your dog’s ability to move. If it does, that could prevent them from swimming normally and make it difficult for them to get themselves out of some situations.

The only way to know for sure if a life jacket fits or not is to put it on and try it. Fortunately, most stores have a generous return policy, and manufacturers can help you get other sizes if needed.

Next, some life jackets make it hard to use other products. For example, many of the neck enclosures are incompatible with most types of collars that dogs wear, which could prevent you from attaching a leash. Furthermore, some life jackets for dogs don’t have a hook or ring to attach a leash anywhere.

This may not be relevant if you’re going to an out-of-the-way pond, but many public lakes and recreational facilities require you to keep your dog on a leash. Keep this in mind when deciding what type of product to buy.

Incidentally, the most common leash hook on a dog life vest is a plastic D-ring permanently attached to a nylon strap. Metal hooks are more durable, but relatively rare on these products, especially because it costs more to use corrosion-resistant materials suitable for saltwater environments.

Finally, some products are more durable than others. You tend to get what you pay for, and cheaper products could fail within a season or two of use. This is why buying a more-expensive product usually ends up saving money over the long term.

To be clear, I don’t believe there are any drawbacks that stop dog life jackets from being a good idea in basically all circumstances where your dog might go into the water. The only time it might be a bad idea is if none of them fit your dog or they have a condition that makes it difficult for them to wear life jackets.

That said, specific products can be a poor choice compared to other products, and you should feel free to kick those to the curb and only focus on the products that are genuinely worth your money.

Common Features

Here are some of the most common features of dog life jackets:

  • Reflective Straps: These straps look relatively normal during the daytime, but reflect light significantly better at night and in other conditions with poor lighting. Along with brightly-colored bodies, these are designed to make your dog easier to see at all times.
  • Handles: Handles are one of the most important reasons to use a life vest in the first place. These offer a simple and easy way to get your dog in and out of the water, and they also make it easier to fit the life jacket on your dog. However, they can get hooked by branches and debris, so keep that in mind.
  • Hooks: Dog life jackets often have at least one hook for a leash, located near where the base of your dog’s neck should be. In rare cases, they may also have hooks, clips, or other types of attachment points so dogs can carry products like lights.
  • Neck Floats: Neck floats go under the chin and help support your dog’s head to keep their face out of the water. In general, these only work with dogs who have smaller heads, rather than breeds with long muzzles. 
  • Buckle Size: Large buckles are fundamentally better choices on dog life jackets because they distribute weight and pressure better than small buckles do. Too much pressure can lead to your dog developing sores or even serious injuries, so bigger is genuinely better for products like these.

Maintaining Your Dog’s Life Vest

Like high-quality human life vests, dog life vests don’t need much in the way of maintenance. Or rather, nobody wants to buy high-maintenance safety products unless it’s absolutely necessary. Reliability is a genuinely important factor for products like these, and rightfully so. That said, there are a few things you can do to keep your dog’s PFD in great condition.

First, rinse off the vest after you take it off your dog. The vest will dry well on its own, but there could be lingering bacteria, algae, dirt, or other debris on the jacket itself. A thorough spraying with fresh water and a quick wipe with a clean towel is usually enough to prepare it for next time.

Next, make sure to try the life vest in an area with decent airflow. Many dog life jackets will be dry within minutes because they’re designed to repel water, so you don’t have to worry about things taking too long. If it stays wet for too long, it could be damaged somewhere, so contact the manufacturer and ask if that’s a problem.

Safety Tips

Here are some quick safety tips for using a dog life vest correctly.

  • Inspect The Life Jacket Before And After Each Use: Life jackets can be damaged by a variety of things, so inspecting the jacket for worn, torn, or otherwise damaged areas is essential. This is true even if you buy life jackets made out of durable materials. Never settle for assumptions on matters of safety. Checking is the only way to be sure.
  • Let Your Dog Get Used To The Vest Before Going Into The Water: Don’t wait until ten minutes before they dive into a lake to put the jacket on for the first time. Instead, get them used to wearing it over several sessions before you even go to the water. If they’re used to it, they’re much less likely to resist wearing it when you want them to.
  • Practice Quick Removal: Life jackets for dogs are generally safe products, but there are times when you may need to remove it quickly. Practicing with this, and teaching your dog a command to hold still so you can do so, can help you protect them in an emergency. With sufficient experience, you can remove a life jacket in mere seconds.

Best Dog Life Jacket Comparison Chart

Product NamePriceSizesSafetyUnique Features
Ruffwear Float Coat$XXS, S, M, L, XLTelescoping neck closure adjusts fit and attaches securely in placeSturdy handle allows one-handed lifting
Vivaglory Ripstop$XS, S, M, LQuick-release buckles ensure easy removal if neededReflective elements provide outstanding visibility
ASENKU Dog Life Jacket$XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLStrong and convenient top grab handle rescue dog in dangerPolyester oxford, nylon and meshfabricfor for drying and proper drainage
Outward Hound Dog Life Jacket$XS, S, M, L, XLBelly buckles & chest straps ensure a safe & secureSmart design choices help keep hair from getting stuck
Hurtta Life Savior PFD$S, M, L, XL, XXLExtra padding across the chest keeps dog’s head out of waterIdeal for swimming, water rescue, rehabilitation, boating and hunting
He&Ha Pet Dog Life Vest$M, LDurable rescue handle helps dogs out of water in emergencyMultiple layers of floating foam
NRS CFD Dog Life Jacket$S, M, L, XLNRS buckles with three adjustment straps secure the vestReflective safety tape for extra visibility

Wrap Up

Now you know more about dog life jackets, including what separates them from other products in this category. Before you go decide which product to buy, let’s review the essential factors to ensure you get the product that’s most suitable for your needs.

First, sizing is essential. Every company has different sizing guidelines for their products, and you must follow those exactly to ensure a correct fit. If your dog doesn’t conform to the most common shapes, you may need to adjust the life jacket, and the manufacturer may be able to provide input on that.

Second, no safety device is good enough to let your dog play unsupervised. Many dogs are eager to jump into the water, but may not be thinking about how to get out. You should treat them the same way you’d treat a human child in a pool: always have a lifeguard on duty, and be ready to dive into the water yourself if you have to.

Finally, give your dog plenty of treats and love when introducing them to a life jacket. The more they associate it with positive emotions and reactions, the more willing they’ll be to wear it whenever you want them to. Don’t try to force the issue if they seem hesitant; instead, persuade them with rewards and get them to like the jacket, rather than merely tolerate it.

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