Whether you are headed out for a long hike in the mountains or walking a mile on the asphalt, most pups are always up for a romp outdoors. But in hot weather, you worry about your dog getting heatstroke. This is why many dog owners choose to buy cooling jackets or vests for their canine pals.
A dog cooling jacket works by evaporation. The jacket is usually made from three layers of fabric. Submerge the jacket in water, then ring out excess water. The middle layer of fabric holds the water, the outer layer allows water to evaporate slowly, and the inner layer keeps the fur cool and dry.
There are several different types and styles of dog cooling jackets and vests available to dog owners. Choosing the right one is important for the comfort of the dog. It is also important to understand how and why they work and how to make sure the dog is as safe and comfortable as can be in the summer heat. Read on to learn all about dog cooling jackets and how they work to keep your best furry friend cool in the heat.
How Cooling Jackets Work for Dogs
Dogs do not sweat. Because of this, it is extremely important to allow your dog to cool off in other ways. Every dog owner knows that the most important things to provide for your dog during the hot summer months are the three items listed below.
- Fresh, clean, cool drinking water to avoid dehydration and aid in cooling as the dog is panting.
- Plenty of dense shade for the dog to get out of the sun and avoid sun stroke.
- A wading pool of water to soak in and cool off. This allows the dog to enjoy evaporative cooling all day, as it lays in the pool to soak, then lays back out to dry and let the evaporating water take body heat away.
However, during outdoor summer activities, it is not always possible to provide ideal conditions to keep the dog cool and avoid heat stroke. One reason that a cooling vest works so well for dogs is because, as stated above, they cannot sweat to regulate their temperature in the same way humans can.
Instead, dogs sweat through sweat glands on their paws. This is why dogs love to run through water on a hot summer day. The water on their paws helps cool them faster. This sweat and water on the paws evaporates, cooling the blood before it recirculates, helping to cool the dog’s internal body temperature.
Dogs also use evaporative cooling by panting. The saliva on the tongue and in the mouth evaporates, carrying body heat with it. These methods of evaporative cooling are natural for the dog, so using this method to cool the dog further with a jacket or vest makes sense and works well.
The cooling jacket works on the same principle of evaporative cooling. This mimics the action of sweat which carries heat away from the body as it evaporates. It creates a much larger surface area for heat exchange. This helps the dog to cool down over the entire back and neck area, not just the mouth and paws.
Cooling Vest Layers
Cooling jackets and vests are typically made of three layers.
- An inner layer that protects the fur from water exposure. This layer helps to pull the body heat into the jacket, exchanging the heat for cooling sensations from the evaporating water above. It is usually wicking and waterproof to help keep the fur and skin as healthy as possible.
- An absorbent middle layer that holds water for a long time, allowing for slow evaporation. As the heat from the dog is pulled up into the wet layer, it is exchanged for cooler water that is sinking. So the dog feels coolness closer to the skin as its body heat is rising up and passing out of the jacket with the water.
- An outer layer that allows the water to evaporate and pass through into the ambient air. Many jackets are made with material that also protects the dog from the sun and UV exposure, acting like a shady umbrella. Some cooling jackets also feature reflective strips or bright materials for added safety.
These three layers are what set a cooling vest apart from other homemade methods of cooling.
How to Use a Dog Cooling Vest
The use of the cooling vest is quite simple. Follow the steps below.
- Soak the vest in water according to the manufacturer’s direction. Some vests arrive pre-soaked for your convenience. Others may need a pre-soaking, so be aware of this and read the directions as soon as it comes so you can get it ready.
- Wring out the extra water. The jacket should not be too heavy with water or dripping onto the dog. The material is made to hold the right amount of water with a light wringing.
- Strap the vest or jacket onto the dog. The inner layer may need to be dried out before fitting, depending on the type of jacket. Follow the directions that come with the cooling jacket. Once the jacket is on the dog, it immediately goes to work.
As the water evaporates from the jacket, it takes the dog’s body heat along with it, helping the dog to cool down faster. On dry days the water will evaporate faster. Bring extra water along with you so that you can rehydrate the vest so it will keep working for the dog.
Common Cooling Vest Features
Some cooling jackets are simply fabric and velcro, which is sufficient for backyard play or a romp in the dog park. However, for owners who plan to take the dog out and about, many cooling jackets boast additional features for convenience and safety.
- Reflective stripes for safety in low-light. This is not only important for use in town. This is just as important for camping, backwoods, hiking, and running at the dog park. The more visible your dog is, the better.
- For hunting dogs, there are cooling vests in orange blaze. However, hunters are not the only ones who know that high visibility colors like orange are excellent choices when it comes to keeping your dog safe. From walking in the city to keeping track of your dog at the dog park, high visibility is the best way to go.
- Some cooling vests can double as a dog harness, with loops and clips so that you can take the dog walking or hiking without extra gear. Depending on the activities that you have planned, these are great dual-purpose cooling jackets.
If you choose a cooling vest or jacket without harness straps or a D-ring, be sure to pack a harness along with you when you are out and about. This way, when it is time to leash up, you are not stuck wondering how to make the leash work with the cooling vest.
Do Cooling Vests Really Work?
Dog owners around the world rely on cooling vests to keep their dogs comfortable in hot weather. How well they work depends on the ambient temperature and relative humidity of the day. In areas that are naturally hot and muggy, the cooling vest will still work, but the lower the humidity, the better they cool.
Evaporative cooling relies on the ability of the water molecules to evaporate and escape into the air, carrying the body heat with them. On days when the air is oppressively muggy, and sweat is not evaporating off of your body, the cooling vest is not going to work either. Be sure to supply the dog with cool water and shade to rest in.
However, for the majority of the time, they work well. A rule of thumb is that if the climate outdoors allows sweat to evaporate off of your body and leaves you cooler, then the same will happen for your dog with the cooling vest. This means that most of the time, and in most places, cooling vests work remarkably well.
Three things to monitor even while your dog is in the cooling vest:
- The water layer, to see if it needs to be refreshed. Especially in arid or semi-arid climates to keep your dog cool and comfy. In fact, they will work so well that you will need to refresh the water layer multiple times a day. So plan accordingly and bring enough water along with you so you can keep the vest wet.
- The body temperature of the dog. While the cooling vest will help your dog stay cooler for much longer, in weather that is oppressively hot and humid, it is important to still watch for signs of overheating, such as bright red gums and a rapid heart rate.
- Signs of overheating such as excessive panting. When a dog overheats, it will drool excessively as an aid to evaporative cooling. This can lead to dehydration and severe heat stroke. Even in a cooling vest, watch for these symptoms and provide plenty of cool drinking water.
Overheating can be very dangerous. It is important to avoid overheating if at all possible. If your dog does overheat, be sure to get to a shaded area and let your dog rest and cool off.
Effectiveness of the Cooling Vest in Arid Climates
The cooling vest will work exceptionally well in arid or semi-arid climates to keep your dog cool and comfy. Due to the nature of the atmosphere in arid and semi-arid climates, the dog will receive even more benefit from the cooling vest.
- The cooling vest will evaporate and cool so well that you will need to refresh the water layer multiple times a day. So plan accordingly and bring enough water along with you so you can keep the vest wet. A dry vest turns into a jacket and will make the dog hotter.
- Many cooling jackets use an outer material that provides some sun and UV protection. This is like sunscreen for the dog, protecting the skin and fur from sun exposure. This not only helps it stay cooler but helps protect it from sunstroke.
- In higher elevations where the atmosphere is thinner, the above UV protective material also protects from sunburn on the skin of the back and neck.
In arid climates or anywhere on dry, hot days, you may notice your dog leaving behind wet footprints. This is a good thing. The dog is sweating through the pads on the feet and cooling off. Be sure to provide plenty of cool, fresh drinking water to refresh and hydrate the dog.
Cooling Vests Beat Other Methods of Cooling
Some dog owners want to save money by wrapping the dog in a wet towel to cool it off. The idea is that the wet towel is essentially the same thing as a cooling vest. They repeatedly soak the towel and put it back on the dog. Clipping a wet towel around the dog is a bad idea, and here is why.
While a towel does provide evaporative cooling and will leave the dog feeling cooler, it is not healthy. Wet dog fur is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. Your dog’s fur will suffer, and so will the skin. A bacterial or fungal infection can result in skin that is:
This itchy, irritated skin is incredibly distressing for the dog and often results in secondary infections when the dog scratches the skin, opening wounds that get infected.
This is why the inner layer of a dog cooling vest keeps the dog’s fur dry. A properly designed vest will ensure that the dog is receiving the coolness from the evaporating water while still keeping the fur and skin protected from soaking in water all day. This is the most healthy way to keep the dog cool while out and about having fun.
If you are out in town and take your dog to the splash pad to cool off, be sure to remove the cooling vest and let the dog get wet. Then leave the vest off and let the dog thoroughly dry. After the dog’s fur is nice and dry, it is time to put a freshly soaked cooling vest on and continue the day’s fun.
How to Measure for Proper Cooling Jacket Fit
It takes every dog a little while to adjust to new accessories. There are three simple measurements to take before ordering a cooling jacket for your dog. Do not rely on the dog’s weight to order. It is important to know exactly how large your dog is to get a fit that will be comfortable for your dog to wear.
- Use a fabric tape measure to measure the dog’s length, from the nape of the neck to the base of the tail. This is the fitting that most cooling jackets use for the length of the dog. A vest that is too short may rub the dog’s skin. One that is too long risks extra material being caught on objects during play.
- Measure the dog’s girth. This is the widest part of the dog’s chest, behind the front legs. This measurement is especially important if the vest is made of neoprene or a similar material with a velcro collar that wraps around the chest. For models with adjustable straps and buckles, this measurement is not as vital.
- Measure the dog’s neck right where the collar sits. This measurement will help you order a cooling jacket with a neck hole large enough to fit the dog comfortably.
Taking the time to measure the dog and order the right size will help you get a comfortable fitting cooling jacket for the dog. This will make the whole experience go more smoothly and be more enjoyable for both of you.
How to Know If Your Dog Likes the Cooling Vest
Most dogs will have a period of adjustment to the jacket or vest that you choose. Once they get used to it, they will love to have it on.
Take the dog for a few test walks or play in the yard before going out for a long day with the vest. Notice if it is scratching or biting at any particular area of the vest. This will help you determine if the vest is comfortable or if there is an edge that is pinching, tight, or rubbing. No matter how well it cools, the dog will not want to wear an ill-fitting vest.
Take note of these things as you are testing the vest.
- Make sure it has enough space to allow full range of movement around the legs. Check that the fabric is not rubbing up around the front legs on the front or back.
- Look for buckles or straps that are pinching or rubbing. Check for redness or fur that appears rubbed after a time of play in the cooling vest. In some cases, it may just need to be loosened up. However, sometimes this indicates that the buckle placement is not right for your dog’s body shape.
- Fabric or strap edges that are rubbing, especially across the chest and around the back of the neck area. If the dog is repeatedly sitting down to scratch the back of the neck, even after having a long time to adjust to the vest, it may be scratching and rubbing.
- Excess fabric that could get caught on something during play. An oversized vest may get caught on objects as the dog is running and playing. This is also a concern when hiking. Make sure that the cooling jacket fits snugly, not too tight, but not loose enough to get snagged on sticks or fences.
Once your dog is used to the new cooling vest, it will become a part of the playtime and outside routine. In the summer, you may find that your dog gets just as excited about the cooling vest as it is about the leash.
There are many things to think about in the hot weather to make sure that your dog is not suffering from the heat. When you are out and about, a cooling vest is the perfect accessory to keep the dog happy and cool while you enjoy summertime play.
Dog cooling vests add a layer of safety and comfort to your outside activities. They are affordable, and when cared for properly and kept clean, they will last for a long time. When you experience the happiness of your dog as it plays outside wearing the vest, you will know that the benefits make a cooling vest well worth the money.
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