Cooling vests are an increasingly popular accessory for dogs of all shapes and sizes. They are a useful way of keeping your doggy cool and comfortable in hot weather and are easy to use. Most, but not all, dogs are happy to wear them and they can be used over and over again. Here’s our no-nonsense guide to the best cooling vests for dogs.
Best Dog Cooling Vest Buying Guide & FAQ
Things to Consider When Buying Dog Cooling Vests
There is a lot of variation in dog cooling vests so it is important to consider the features that may be most useful to you and your doggy:
- It must fit your dog properly
A poorly fitting dog cooling vest will be uncomfortable, will restrict your dog’s movements and will not work properly. Some dogs don’t like to wear any type of coat or harness but even if your pooch is a fan of fashion, they won’t enjoy something that is too tight or that flaps around when they run.
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It is important to choose one that is available in a range of sizes and adjustable straps may be handy for some fine tuning of the fit. Read the measurements in the ‘Size Guide’ and check out the reviews for the product to see if the owners felt it was a small or large fit.
- Dog cooling vests must last for a reasonable time
A vest that dries out in five minutes is not going to be any use on a day’s hike. You could stop and recharge it in a stream (or even carry water with you) but this is an unnecessary inconvenience. It’s better to select one that will last for a longer time. All vests dry out quicker when the air is dry and windy and in bright sunlight.
- Dog cooling vests should reflect heat
The whole point of the vest is to keep your doggy cool so the more heat it reflects the better. Select one with a heat reflecting material, which is usually a light color, on the outer layer.
- Dog cooling vests should protect from sunburn
If you are taking your pooch out in bright sunlight, it is also a good idea to get a UV resistant vest to make sure that they don’t get sunburn.
- Dog cooling vests should be easy to get on and off
This is a matter of personal preference. Some doggy moms and dads prefer a Velcro fastening because it is simple and there are no sharp edges to pinch the skin or get caught in fur. Others feel that a zipper or clips are more secure. Some vests have both zippers and clips.
- Reflective strips are a useful safety feature
Keeping your pooch safe is a priority and reflective strips play an important role in this especially if you are walking at dawn or dusk or near a road. Reflective strips on the vest will keep your dog visible and help to reduce the chance of accidents.
- Compatibility with your collar and leash
It is important to check that your dog can wear the vest comfortably with their existing collar and leash without crowding or rubbing their skin. Some vests have an integral leash clip to avoid this difficulty.
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- Comfort against the skin
Think of how uncomfortable you would feel walking around for hours with a wet jacket on your back! Dogs can also find wet fur irritating. It may be best to select a vest with a wicking material next to the skin. This has pores that are large enough to allow water vapor to pass through and draws it away from the skin.
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One key consideration is the materials used in the production of the vest. Most dog vests are made from ‘breathable’ fabrics such as cotton which can also hold a lot of water. You need to choose materials that are non-toxic and will not harm your dog if they chew them. Lightweight, soft materials are more comfortable to wear. Some materials are stiff when they are dry but softer when they are wet.
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The ‘look’ of the dog cooling vest is likely to bother you more than it bothers your dog so you have free-choice when it comes to color. Most are made from a bright reflective material but there is very little choice when it comes to color. They are clearly more of a functional item than a fashion statement!
The cut of the vest will, however, bother your dog. Dogs that are more active may appreciate a more ‘athletic’ design that does not restrict their movements. An older or calmer pooch who prefers a gentle ramble will be happier with a bulkier design.
Benefits of Using a Dog Cooling Vest
Heat exhaustion (you may see it written as hyperthermia) is a real problem in dogs. They have a coat of fur which traps a layer of air next to the skin and keeps them nice and warm in cold conditions. However, it also means that they cannot get rid of heat from their bodies when they need to.
Cooling down a hot dog
It is actually not that easy to cool down a hot dog! Their fur acts as an insulator and traps the heat in their body. Once they are over-heated, it can be hard to get their temperature to drop even when you take them into a cool environment. Therefore, the best plan is always to prevent them from getting overheated in the first place.
The ways in which a dog keeps cool
Contrary to popular opinion, dogs do sweat! However, they do this from merocrine sweat glands which are found only on their paw pads. As cooling mechanisms go, this is not that great!
They also pant. You will have noticed that dogs pant more on hot days. Their mouth and tongues are moist and as the moisture evaporates it cools them down. The blood vessels in their ears and face also get bigger (vasodilation) which brings more blood closer to the surface. However, both of these methods have a limited effectiveness and many dogs are prone to overheating.
The dangers of overheating
Overheating in dogs is a very serious and potentially fatal condition. A dog with heatstroke will be panting heavily, will drool excessively and will have red gums, a rapid or irregular heart rate and possibly seizures and muscle tremors. Eventually, they will lose consciousness. Immediate cooling and emergency veterinary treatment are required.
Dogs that are more vulnerable to heat stroke
Any dog can get heat stroke if they are left in an unsuitable environment such as a car on a hot day. It is also true that some breeds can overheat more easily in cooler conditions. The brachycephalic breeds (Pugs, Boxers, Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, French Bulldogs, and Shih Tzu) have short noses and cannot lose as much heat from their respiratory tract and by panting. They are therefore more likely to suffer from heatstroke. Dogs with thick fur or who have medical conditions such as laryngeal paralysis and obesity are also more likely to suffer from heatstroke.
There is another group of dogs who are particularly vulnerable and they are the retrieving dogs including Retrievers, Labradors, and Springer Spaniels. They love constant exercise and playtime and have an overwhelming urge to keep running around on hot days, even when they are overheating.
As a dog owner, you have a responsibility to take precautions against over-heating and to be alert for the signs.
The obvious preventative action is not to expose your dog to hot and humid conditions. Make sure that houses and cars are cool and well ventilated. Never leave your dog in a parked car in the sun even with the windows open. Keep your dog well hydrated and allow them to have plenty of rest in the shade.
A cooling vest can work very well to keep your dog cool when you are out and about enjoying time together or when it is very warm in your house. However, they are not a substitute for vigilance and they DO NOT allow you to leave your dog unattended in a hot environment.
For further products like this that provide relief in hot conditions, also read our list of the best cooling pads for dogs.
Dog Cooling Vests Size Guide
The best cooling vests for dogs are the ones that fit well. It is important that your dog’s cooling vest fits well to encourage your dog to wear it and to ensure that it works correctly. If you read the reviews of cooling vets, it is clear that sizing is a major issue for dog owners. Most vests are available in a range of at least four sizes.
Sizing guides are given with most brands of the vest. The most important factor in determining the right size vest for your pooch is its girth. You can measure this using a soft measuring tape. It is the measurement around the widest part of the rib cage. The girth must fit correctly to ensure proper cooling over your dog’s body.
The next factor in determining size is the length of the dog’s back although some vests give neck measurements as well. A dog’s weight is not considered a good indicator of the size of the dog cooling vest you need. It can be hard to find some breeds, including bulldogs, a well-fitting vest because they have large necks and a deep chest but a short body.
As a general rule, a girth of 14-21 inches will suit breeds such as Jack Russells and Yorkshire Terriers; 17-25 inches will suit breeds such as Shih Tzu, Maltese and Boston Terriers; 22-29 inches will suit Beagles and Wheaton Terriers; 27-35 inches will suit Border Collies; 32-39 inches will suit Retrievers and Labradors and a girth of 35-43 inches will suit Rottweilers.
Dog Cooling Vests FAQ
Q: What are dog cooling vests?
A: Cooling vests for dogs are a garment that is fastened to your dog’s body to help them keep cool in warm conditions. They can be made from a variety of materials and in a range of styles.
They either work through an ice pack principle or through an evaporation principle. Both remove heat from a dog’s body and keep them comfortable on a hot day. They are not a substitute for vigilance in hot weather and do not allow you to leave your dog in an unsuitably hot environment.
Q: How do dog cooling vests work?
A: Cooling vests work either by evaporation or by the ice-pack effect.
Evaporation vests mimic the action of sweating which keeps us humans cool. When water evaporates, it changes its state from a liquid to a gas (water vapor) and that requires a form of energy. The energy is provided by the dog’s body in the form of heat energy. So, evaporation uses up heat energy and therefore drops the temperature on your dog’s skin. You have to soak the vest before you put it on your dog’s body and it will carry on working until it dries out.
Ice-pack vests work in a similar way. They have to be put in the freezer before use. As the ice changes from a solid (ice) into a liquid (water) it uses up heat energy and this drops your dog’s temperature. Because they do not rely on evaporation they are useful in humid environments.
Q: How long does a dog cooling vest stay cool?
A: Some brands of dog cooling vest give estimates of how long they will stay cool but many do not. This is understandable because there are so many variables that can affect how long the vest will work for including the humidity and temperature of the air, the presence of sunlight, the breed of your dog and how active they are.
Some reviewers have reported that the evaporative vests will stay wet for periods over five hours but for others, it is shorter than that. Some owners like to ‘top up’ the evaporative vests from hose-pipes and water bottles when they are out and about but that only works if your dog doesn’t mind having water poured over them!
Q: How many times can dog cooling vests be used before they need replacing?
A: With proper care, best cooling vests for dogs can last for many years with regular use. It is very important that you hang them up to dry thoroughly before packing them away because mold can form on them.
Q: How do I clean my dog cooling vest?
A: Each dog cooling vest will come with instructions for use and cleaning. Most need to be cleaned in cold water (not salt water) and they cannot be bleached or tumble dried. You can pop many of them into the washing machine on a cold wash cycle.
Our Top Pick for the Best Dog Cooling Vest
Ruffwear Swamp Cooler
The Ruffwear cooling vest is a three-layered vest that works through the evaporative effect. It’s easy to use by simply soaking in cold water before wringing it out and fastening it to your dog’s body. It is compatible with harnesses from the same brand, has a bright reflective color and is machine washable. It’s available in a good range of sizes and fits on using auto-lock buckles.