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Does your dog need a life jacket?

Does your dog need a life jacket?
Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Labor Day Weekend is fast approaching, and in Michigan, that means one more chance to hit the water! Whether in your pool, your boat, or at the beach, both people and dogs love the water. But water can be even more of a hazard for your dog, especially if Fido is not a strong swimmer. Dog owners should consider getting a life jacket for their furry friend. While many experts advise life jackets for all breeds (yes, even your water-loving lab), there are some dogs who absolutely need that extra protection when it comes to water fun. Consider the following when deciding on a doggie life jacket:

Michigan law has rules for children wearing life jackets on a boat, but what about your dog? Any dog on a boat should wear a life jacket, even those breeds born to swim. Dogs that love the water may spend so much time in it that they get fatigued. If your dog falls out of the boat, it may take some time to swing back around to pick up the dog. Besides keeping your dog afloat, life jackets are also brightly colored, letting other boats see your dog in the water and making it easier for you to find him. Life jackets for dogs also come with straps for hauling the dog back up onto a boat or pier. Pulling your dog up by the collar can be harmful, and putting a life jacket on your dog is a much safer way to get them back into the boat.

Non-Swimming Breed
Some dogs are built to swim with webbed feet and powerful legs. Some dogs are not. Bully breeds have heavy, dense bodies that make swimming difficult. Any short-legged dog such as a corgis or dachshunds don't have the right leg muscles for swimming long distances. And small dogs need extra protection from temperature extremes. If you have a dog that isn't a natural-born swimmer, make sure they wear a life jacket during any water activities.

Puppies and First-Timers
Even dogs that are built to swim may need a little assistance while getting started. Just like small children, puppies may not be physically or mentally ready to start swimming on their own until they reach a certain level of development. If you'd like to introduce your puppy to the water early, a life jacket can keep them safe and let them explore swimming movements in a fun and safe way. Likewise, dogs that have never been given an opportunity to swim may benefit from a life jacket while learning how to navigate the water.

Overweight, Out of Shape, or Old
These three O's can apply to dogs of any breed. An overweight dog may have trouble swimming on it's own because of lack of muscle tone, fatigue, or range of motion issues. Dogs that are out of shape, either because they are overweight or recovering from abuse or medical issues should also have the assistance of life jackets. Finally, an older dog may have joint or muscle concerns and could tire much more easily than she used to; a life jacket can keep her safe and let her enjoy an activity she loves.

Protection From the Cold
Most short-haired dog breeds need extra layers while swimming. Hypothermia can occur very quickly in water, even if your dog is constantly moving. Many dog life jackets are made from neoprene, the same material as a human wet suit. Wearing a life jacket will help keep your dog's chest warm, which will allow the heart to pump warm blood to the extremities. Any dog with short hair, from Great Danes to chihuahuas can benefit from a life jacket.

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