Pets are part of the family, and more pets than ever are taking vacations with their families. For those that travel to lakes, rivers and the coastal areas with their pets, it is a good idea to stop and think about your pet being near water. Contrary to popular belief, not all dogs can swim! This is a common misconception, probably helped along by the swim stroke referred to as the "dog paddle." As a matter of fact some dogs just don't take to the water at all.
Breeds with low body fat like Dobermans and Boxers can have trouble in the water. Older dogs may tire easily and breeds prone to hip dysphasia may have difficulty swimming. Hypothermia can be a threat to some breeds when they are unduly exposed to cold or cool water. "No matter how well a dog can swim under supervision, any dog can drown," All dogs can get fatigued and/or become disoriented. Some breeds simply do not enjoy being anywhere near water and some breeds that have low body fat (Greyhounds, Whippets, etc.) may have a much more difficult time staying afloat and regulating body temperature.
There are some breeds that love to be in the water, such as Retrievers and Labradors. However, it is important to remember that even these "water dogs" can have trouble if they are elderly, sick, or overweight and out of shape. Fatigue can set in quickly, and no matter how good a swimmer they are, they may tire out and be unable to stay afloat. Like their human counterparts, many dogs lead a much more sedentary life style these days, and gasping for breath while in water is not a good way to assess their fitness level.
Fear and anxiety in the water, as when a pet falls in unexpectedly, can hamper normal respiration and swimming ability as well. Waves, undertows, currents and fast-moving rivers can overtake even the strongest swimmer. Wearing a life vest may be the difference between life and death. For those of you with an easily excited pet, or one that is anxious to chase things - sometimes forgetting the water, you may want to consider a life vest, when boating or fishing, or spending time near a pool. If you are considering a life vest for your pet, talk to other boaters and pet owners. The US Coast Guard, which regulates human life jackets, does not regulate vests for pets, so be sure to have your pet fitted for the vest that will work best. Dogs in particular come in every shape/size/weight, so be sure to get accurate measurements for a good fit.
There are many jacket styles out there and the materials used have different levels of buoyancy in the water, so it is important make sure the life vest adequately meets your pet's weight and size requirements. However, even with a life vest, do not leave your pet unattended - they can be quite hot to wear if not in the water and your pet may chew or become entangled in the vest if bored or wanting to escape.
Most products on the market have lifting handles that make retrieving your dog much easier for you and safer for all concerned. Thus, the handles, straps, buckles and overall fit of the jackets became the most important consideration in our evaluations. Some pet life vests buckle underneath the dog and around the neck, putting the flotation on the dog's back or ribs. Life vests clearly change the way each dog floats and the added buoyancy should certainly help a tired or elderly dog. Pet life vests are designed to float the animal in a horizontal, swimming position, and not with the head up, and out of the water like they do for their human counterparts. The life vests are designed not to interfere with the dog's swimming ability although you need to be careful about extra-long straps. While the excess strap length does not pose any problems with swimming, you might want to shorten the straps to avoid any snagging problems.
If you spend a lot of time near water this summer and your faithful canine is at your side, and his swimming abilities are questionable, a life vest may be a good idea, but they should never replace caution and common sense.