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August 25, 2021 17 min read

Best Small Dog Life Jackets Reviewed

Dog swimming while wearing a red life jacket

While our furry friends might leap into the waves with abandon, it’s still a good idea to help keep your dog safe with a life jacket or life vest before they jump in for a swim. 

A life vest can save your dog if they become tired while they swim, or if they get injured by accident. Plus, many of the best dog life jacket models can make man’s best friend more visible in the water: a key concern if your pup is one of the smaller breeds.

Want to know what to look for in the best dog life jackets for small dogs, or how to measure a doggie life vest in the first place? This guide has it all, including our list of the top life jackets for small dogs, so you can make the right choice when buying a PFD for your pooch.

What to Look for in a Small Dog Life Vest

We’ve recommended the top 8 best life jackets for small dogs by keeping some key criteria in mind. This is because, when purchasing a new floatation vest for small dogs, there are lots of things you should think about before buying. Let’s break them down one by one:

Dog Life Jacket vs Dog Life Vest

First of all, be sure you know the difference between a dog life jacket and a dog life vest.

Dog life jackets are thicker and have extra padding or flotation elements. They’re better used for swimming in the open ocean or taking your dog into particularly deep or choppy water, when they might need a little help to stay afloat. For instance, if you’re paddle boarding, use a dog life jacket.

On the flip side, dog life vests are thinner, weigh less, and are fine if your small dog is taking a quick swim in the family pool, or playing fetch in the shallows at the beach. 

D-Ring

A D-ring leash attachment is a tether point that allows you to clip a leash onto the flotation device. This is a great attachment to look for, since it will allow you to retain control of your dog from land to water with ease.

Handles

Dog life jacket or vest handles can make it a lot easier for you to hold your dog when needed. Plus, they’re perfect places to hold them up when teaching them to swim or when guiding them through the water.

We’re also fans of dual grab handles, since having two handles can help you hold your pooch more securely if they’re kicking or thrashing in a panic and you need to get them out of the water ASAP.

Durable Top Handle

Dog life jacket with handle on a gili adventure board

Specifically, look for a very durable top handle. This is likely where you will grab your dog most frequently, so it makes sense that the top handle should be able to withstand significant wear and tear without breaking.

High-Visibility Color & Reflective Strips

Be sure to select a dog life vest or jacket with lots of bright, highly visible colors and reflective strips. Both of these can make your dog appear more visible in low light conditions, which may be especially important if you take your furry friend to a lake or pond with other people.

Plus, colorful vests or reflective strips can help you locate your dog quickly in the water if you lose track of them.

Buoyancy

Of course, a good dog life jacket or vest will be quite buoyant (i.e. it will float well and keep your dog’s head above water). Smaller dogs don’t usually weigh too much to begin with, but a more buoyant flotation device is always a better choice, since they lower the likelihood of your dog’s head dipping under the water’s surface, even for a moment.

Attachable Front Flotation Pad

Extra and attachable front flotation panels or pads can help keep your small dog’s head out of the water. This is a necessary feature if your dog is a breed with a short snout – you don’t want them to breathe in any water by accident, after all.

Extra Flotation Material Around the Sides & Middle

Similarly, it may be a good idea to look for models for small dogs that have extra flotation materials around their sides and middle. This boosts the vest’s overall buoyancy, allowing your dog to float upright in a properly aligned swimming position that cuts down on fatigue.

Size & Fit

Lastly, be sure that the life jacket size and fit are perfect for your small dog. Life vests that don’t fit properly can be a problem if they either constrict your dog, or slip right off in the water.  If it’s too tight, it can be difficult for them to breathe and prevent their legs from having a full range of motion to paddle freely. Too loose, and the water that gets between the floatation device and your dog’s body can make it easy for them to slip out of the vest.

Look for the best dog life jacket models, that feature fully adjustable straps and a telescoping neck closure so you can cinch your hound into it tightly but comfortably. Of course, you’ll need to measure your dog first to make sure you’re choosing the correct life jacket size for their dimensions before making tailored adjustments with the added features. 

How to Measure Your Dog for a Life Jacket

Dog wearing a pink life jacket

Fortunately, measuring your small dog to get the right fit isn’t too tricky.

Chest Circumference

Start by measuring the chest circumference of your small dog. To do this, wrap a regular measuring tape around your dog’s rib cage at the widest point, which is usually right behind its front legs.

Neck Circumference

Next, measure your dog’s neck circumference, since this is where any potential lifejacket will rest in most cases. Wrap the same measuring tape around the lowest portion of your dog’s neck near its shoulders.

Back Length

Then, measure your dog’s back length from where its neck meets its shoulders, then back to about 2 inches before the base of its tail. You can use a measuring tape here as well.

Weight

Lastly, be sure to get your dog’s weight, as most dog life jackets and life vests have weight ranges to ensure that a dog won’t sink in a given jacket. Do this using a standard scale and be sure to only choose a good vest that can support your dog’s overall weight.

Safety Tips for Life Jackets for Dogs

While getting the perfect dog life preserver is a great idea, it’s only half the battle. You’ll also need to practice a few important safety tips to make the most of any buoyancy device.

Positive Reinforcement

Man with his dog on a komodo SUP board

We’d recommend maintaining a positive attitude about a new vest. Dogs learn best when they receive positive reinforcement for actions or activities, so follow this advice to the letter. Try to make wearing and putting the lifejacket on a positive overall experience by giving your dog treats, pats, and kind words in a high pitched voice.

Ensure Proper Fitting and Securing

No matter how many times you put your lifejacket on your dog, always make sure it fits properly and securely every single time before you head out on the water together. Your dog should be comfortable but safe within the life jacket, and when you invest a little extra effort to make sure the fit is comfortable for them, it will help them to get used to their new outfit before long.

Buy the Right Jacket

Of course, be sure to purchase the right one. Don’t buy them the cheapest jacket you can find or something that doesn’t fit – otherwise, you may end up making your dog uncomfortable or buying a jacket that they slip out of in the water more often than not. A high quality model will be the best pick in the long run, as your dog won’t mind wearing it, and you won’t mind putting it on them!

Be Careful When Connecting a Jacket to a Leash or Tether

Whenever you attach a leash or tether to your dog’s life jacket, be sure to do so carefully and securely. Failing to do this could result in your leash or tether slipping off the jacket’s D-ring at the worst possible moment.

Never Let Your Dog Swim Unsupervised

Lastly, remember that wearing a life jacket does not automatically make your dog impervious to harm. Be sure to always supervise your dog when they swim, even if they are more safe and snug in their life jacket.

What is the Best Life Jacket for a Dog?

Woman with her dog on a life jacket

Determining the perfect life jacket for any given dog is tricky. After all, each dog has a different size, shape, and individual needs. However - after some extensive research, we chose the Paws Aboard Dog Life Jacket Vest as the best life jacket for a small dog - due to it’s great build quality, price and great consumer ratings! 

However, since there are lots of different products for different pups, we broke down the eight best small dog life jacket picks in detail, as there are indeed some strong contenders for the top Spot.

The Best Small Dog Life Vests

Best Overall
Blue Gili dog life jacket
GILI Dog Life Jacket PFD

Why we like it:

  • Great and stylish design in a choice of colors
  • Fully adjustable to get the best fit for your dog
  • Great range of sizes to suit any dog breed
  • Zip pocket for ID tag storage – gives you extra peace of mind

What we don't like:

  • Nothing! This is the best dog life jacket available!
Check Latest Price
Best for Small Dogs
Red paws aboard dog life jacket vest for small dogs

Paws Aboard Dog Life Jacket Vest

Why we like it:

  • Vibrant and fun designs
  • Adjustable collar allows for maximum comfort
  • Heavy-duty buckles positioned at belly

What we don't like:

  • Big logo slapped on the side of the vest
Check Latest Price
Most Classic Design
Bright color outward hound dog life jacket for small dogs
Outward Hound Dog Life Jacket

Why we like it:

  • Neoprene belly supports chest and belly
  • Comes in multiple sizes
  • Features extra chin and chest floats
  • Multiple handles makes dog easier to grab in emergency situations

What we don't like:

  • Neoprene belly could restrict breathing if not done correctly
Check Latest Price
Best Budget
Green vivaglory ripstop life jacket for small dogs
Vivaglory Ripstop Dog Life Jacket

Why we like it:

  • High-vis straps go down both sides and across the top
  • Multiple points for adjustment allows for optimal comfort
  • Most colors are high-visibility
  • D-ring attached to handle allows for a light to be attached

What we don't like:

  • Tricky to get the size right
Check Latest Price

Best Overall: GILI Dog Life Jacket PFD

The GILI Sports Dog Life Jacket is the best overall life vest for dogs of all shapes and sizes, including small dog breeds. This jacket is made for excellent buoyancy, with thick side panels, along with fantastic durability. The design is ergonomic and comfortable, so if your pooch enjoys a paddle or accidentally falls off your SUP, they will be able to swim unrestricted. 

Blue Gili dog life jacket

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Six sixes to choose from with details size guide chart, ranging from X-small to XX-large
  • Made from tough and durable materials with side foam panels
  • Rescue grab handle and zipped pocket at the rear to store your dog’s personal tag
  • Leash d-ring and heavy-duty buckles on adjustable straps

What we love:

  • Great and stylish design in a choice of colors
  • Fully adjustable to get the best fit for your dog
  • Great range of sizes to suit any dog breed
  • Zip pocket for ID tag storage – gives you extra peace of mind

What we don't love:

  • Nothing! This is the best dog life jacket available!

It’s no wonder why this dog PFD is our number one choice overall. The grab handle is reinforced and all seams have tough reinforced stitching to ensure this life jacket keeps up with all your dogs adventures. 

The life jacket has velcro straps underneath with adjustable straps and buckles, so you can get the best fit for your best friend. The neck strap also uses a combination of velcro and straps, making comfort a key feature. So what are you waiting for? Put in your order now for this GILI Sports Dog Life Jacket PFD!

Best for Small Dogs: Paws Aboard Dog Life Jacket Vest

The Paws Aboard Dog Life Jacket Vest is the best life vest for small dogs in particular. It’s small size (provided you select the ‘small’ option) and choice of many vibrant colors makes it a great little life vest that’s attractive and easy to grab, thanks to it’s handles. The jacket itself is made from breathable and quick to dry neoprene fabrics.

Red paws aboard dog life jacket vest for small dogs

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Rescue handle deeply sown into vest
  • Make from breathable, quick-dry neoprene material
  • Designed for maximum buoyancy
  • Mesh underbelly designed to eliminate chafing and chance of heat exhaustion

What we love:

  • Vibrant and fun designs
  • Adjustable collar allows for maximum comfort
  • Heavy-duty buckles positioned at belly

What we don't love:

  • Big logo slapped on the side of the vest

Our top-choice vest is incredibly buoyant and allows for a great range of motion while keeping your furry friend’s head above water along the way. The breathable mesh underbelly will also prevent chafing or heat exhaustion, which makes it a great choice for particularly hot climates.

Even better, the collar is adjustable in the mesh underbelly and is Velcro secured. All in all, it’s a comfortable and stylish life jacket that can suit a variety of smaller dogs.

Best Overall: Outward Hound Dog Life Jacket

The Outward Hound is easily the best dog life jacket overall for small breeds, thanks to all of its excellent features and material quality. For example, it’s made with ripstop material that can stand the test of time as well as provide maximum buoyancy.

Bright color outward hound dog life jacket for small dogs

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Sized based on dog’s girth
  • Designed with bright color options for higher visibility
  • Provides ultimate buoyancy without limiting movement on land
  • Multi-handle design

What we love:

  • Neoprene belly supports chest and belly
  • Comes in multiple sizes
  • Features extra chin and chest floats
  • Multiple handles makes dog easier to grab in emergency situations

What we don't love:

  • Neoprene belly could restrict breathing if not done correctly

This life vest doesn’t restrict your dog’s movements on land. It’s totally secure and easy to remove thanks to adjustable side release buckles and a neoprene belly band.

Plus, it’s a good choice for you as well since it features multiple grab handles for easy access and bright color options to add to your dog’s visibility. It’s available in multiple sizes, so it can suit a variety of breeds and dog weights. 

Best Budget: Vivaglory Ripstop Dog Life Jacket

Want something budget-friendly for your little pup? The Vivaglory Ripstop Dog Life Jacket is the best small dog life vest for those on a budget - and is an ideal fit for any dog with chest measurements between 12 and 16 inches in total.

Green vivaglory ripstop life jacket for small dogs

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Extra padding enables strong buoyancy
  • Designed to not restrict dog’s movement
  • Fastens around belly and neck for supreme security
  • Quick-release buckles in case of emergencies

What we love:

  • High-vis straps go down both sides and across the top
  • Multiple points for adjustment allows for optimal comfort
  • Most colors are high-visibility
  • D-ring attached to handle allows for a light to be attached

What we don't love:

  • Tricky to get the size right

As mentioned, it’s made with ripstop fabric for added durability. This jacket comes with additional padding on the sides to provide even more buoyancy without restricting your dog’s playful motions.

The durable grab handle on the top is ergonomically designed, and it comes with a D-ring so you can easily attach a leash or tether for your convenience. It comes in a choice of bright colors, and has reflective trims for great visibility. A great choice if you’re trying to keep an eye on costs. 

Most Colorful: Haocoo Dog Life Jacket

Color matters a lot when choosing a good dog life jacket. In case your dog decides to swim far away, they’ll be easy to spot and grab.

Most colorful haocoo life jacket for small dogs

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Made of high-grade polyester Oxford and nylon fabric
  • Exceptional durability and flexibility
  • Super comfortable pearl cotton foam material ideal for picky dogs

What we love:

  • Easy to adjust belts and quick-release buckles
  • Features a heavy-duty D-ring hook for leash or tether
  • Variety of fun colors and designs

What we don't love:

  • Chart provided runs small

Go with the Haocoo Dog Life Jacket and your dog will have great visibility whenever they go into the water, even if they are very small.

Best for Buoyancy: EzyDog Doggy Flotation Life Vest

Need a life vest for a slightly heavier dog or worried about buoyancy? Try the EzyDog Life Vest, which comes in a variety of sizes and two bright colors (red or yellow).

Buoyant ezydog doggy flotation life jacket for small dogs

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Extremely buoyant since it’s made with 50% more flotation material compared to similar vests
  • Highly reflective trim
  • Custom sizing to make your dog as comfortable as possible

What we love:

  • Ergonomic and integrated grab handle
  • Extensively tested for the most ergonomic and comfortable fit
  • Durable thanks to the materials used and its overall construction

What we don't love:

  • Only available in two colors

The handle makes it super easy for you to handle your dog in the water, making this a good swim training vest as well. Don’t forget the highly reflective trim, which adds some night safety to the already-excellent jacket.

Best for Short Snouts: PETCEE Dog Life Jacket

The PETCEE Dog Life Jacket is the best life jacket for any short snouted dogs due to its design and extra chest flotation pad.

Pink petcee life jacket for small dogs

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Made with durable Oxford fabric, including rescue grab handle
  • Secure neck float that sits beneath dog’s chin
  • Velcro fastening system

What we love:

  • Additional chest flotation pad
  • Built-in reflective strike to help you identify your dog at night or in lowlight environments
  • Velcro fastening system combined with adjustable nylon straps make for excellent security

What we don't love:

  • Only available in one design/color

Some dog breeds have particularly short snouts and, thus, need to take extra precautions when in the water - as their snout can easily dip beneath the water and cause drowning. This life jacket gives your dog an extra layer of protection and you more peace of mind.

Best for Active Dogs: RUFFWEAR Float Coat Dog Life Jacket

Does your dog love to energetically power their way through the water with off-the-charts excitement? Try the RUFFWEAR K9 Float Coat: a durable canine life vest that’s perfect for dogs who like to accompany you on any of your wilder ventures.

Ruffwear float coat life jacket for small active dogs

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Strategic placement of PVC-free GAIA foam panels supports natural swimming positions
  • Adjustable neck
  • Webbing composed of water-compatible materials that remains stable when wet

What we love:

  • Updated increased visibility integrated into handle
  • Includes a light loop for a safety light
  • Foam panels designed to mold to your dog’s body shape and move along with it

What we don't love:

  • On the expensive side

The specially placed foam panels to help your dog swim securely but flexibly, and support an upright position. Even better, this life jacket comes with a low profile handle on the back to help you carry your dog when necessary.

Most Durable: Camo Pet Life Preserver Jacket

Lastly, consider the Camo Pet Life Preserver if you want the most durable doggy life jacket you can get. This life jacket comes in a few different sizes but sacrifices a little visibility due to the camouflage aesthetic.

Durable camo pet life preserver jacket for small dogs

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Ultra durable velcro straps
  • Adjustable straps and buckles
  • Available in 5 different sizes
  • Reflective strips along the straps for hi-visibility

What we love:

  • Awesome camo print
  • D-ring incorporated into top handle for leash attachment
  • Material is quick-dry and moisture-wicking
  • Layers made from comfortable lightweight mesh fiber

What we don't love:

  • No additional padding for short snouted dogs

Overall, this is quite a comfortable floatation device made with lightweight mesh fiber so your furry friend should feel comfortable whenever they wear it.

Which Breeds Would be Considered a “Small” Dog?

This is a little up for interpretation. But generally speaking, small dogs are those who have chest measurements from side to side of between 16 and 20 inches in total. Very small breeds might be even tinier than this, with chest measurements ranging between 11 and 15 inches wide.

If your dog’s chest measures within these ranges, you should consider getting them a vest or jacket for “small dogs” specifically. These vests will fit better than smaller vests designed initially for larger dogs.

The Best Way to Paddle With Your Pooch

Man with his two dogs on a life jacket

All in all, dogs are our treasured companions and decent swimmers in their own right. But they can become tired just like us, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to our furry friends.

We hope you’ll take these dog life jacket recommendations to heart the next time you go out on the waves or paddle boarding. Nothing beats spending time outdoors with your dog, especially if it's on a dog-friendly paddle board like the GILI KOMODO: a one of a kind board with a full-length traction pad for your feet and your dog’s paws.

Stay safe and have fun this summer!

FAQ’S

🏆 Do dogs really need life jackets?

Ask the most attentive dog owners, and they’ll surely agree: Yes, the life of your pup might depend on a flotation device one day. Even though dogs are excellent swimmers, they should still wear life preservers regularly whenever they swim too far from shore or if they’re small enough that even a short swim could be potentially dangerous.

As your dog’s owner and protector, it’s your responsibility to make sure that your dog is safe whenever they go for a swim. This is doubly true if you have a small dog – their legs are less powerful than those of their larger cousins, so they may have a harder time swimming in general.


👍 Can you use a human life jacket on a dog?

While it’s important for dogs to wear life vests for the same reasons that we as adults or kids wear them, you can’t just give your dog your old life jacket and call it a day. In fact, your life vest is designed for human use only, so it won’t fit your dog properly, no matter how much it seems to be the perfect size.

It’s a much better idea to purchase a specialized dog flotation vest if you want to take your pet’s safety seriously. A life jacket for dogs is made specifically for canines and comes with special features as well to keep them safe in the water.


🏝️ Do dog life jackets work?

Absolutely. They can protect your pup from drowning or even going underwater temporarily, particularly when they’re not strong swimmers or when water conditions are a bit choppy or rough, such as when you’re at sea. 


❓ Do dogs need to wear life jackets on boats?

Totally. Your dog might eventually see a fish or another cool animal and jump overboard. In these situations, it’s great peace of mind knowing that you’ll help keep your dog afloat in a vest while you scoop them back on deck, especially if your boat is out on the ocean.


📦 Do dogs need life jackets when swimming in a pool?

It’s usually a good idea to keep your dog safe with a life vest, even when they’re swimming in a supervised pool. This is especially true for smaller dogs, who might occasionally have difficulty reaching the edge.


📦 How long do dog life jackets last?

The best dog life jackets are highly durable. They can last for several years depending on their materials, the way you care for them, and how well you store them. Cheaper jackets may only last a year or less, so be sure to keep your dog safe, comfortable and seen in the best dog life jacket your budget allows. 


📦 How do I get my dog adjusted to a life jacket?

Take it slow. Dogs often take a little while to get used to new things, especially when those new things are flotation devices they need to wear for their own safety! Try offering your dog a few treats to smooth things over.


📦 Which dogs are most likely to need a life jacket?

While doggy life jackets are a great idea for any breed, they’re particularly important for any dogs that have deep chests, or short faces that make it difficult to hold their snout above the water. They’re also a good idea for young dogs that may not know how to swim, as well as any dogs that have physical handicaps.


📦 Does my dog still need a life jacket if it’s a strong swimmer?

Even stronger swimmers can eventually tire; this is true for both humans and dogs. It’s still recommended that your dog wear a life jacket whenever they swim, if only since it’s better to be safe than sorry.


📦 Why won’t my dog move with a life jacket on?

Many dogs feel a little uneasy or strange when they wear new items for the first time. That can be anything from a new collar, to a rain jacket, or even a cone after a vet’s visit! If you practice positive reinforcement and give your dog time to adapt to a new life vest, they will eventually regain their happy personalities and start moving once again. 


📦 How do I clean and maintain my dog’s life jacket?

Any given dog life vest or jacket should have some maintenance instructions in the manufacturer's bag or box. Check these, but otherwise be sure to rinse the vest off with clean, fresh water after every use, and don’t forget to hang up the jacket to dry in a shady, cool place.

Jay Regan
Jay Regan

Chief Paddler - Jay has been surfing and paddling for over 5 years. When he's not dreaming up new stuff at GILI, he's writing articles about paddling, out paddling, or often traveling.


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