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Dog cooling vests have gotten a lot of press lately as an easy way to help a pup beat the summer heat—but it’s hard to know at a glance how good a job they do. Can all that fancy mesh really offer lasting comfort in hot weather, or would your pup be better off with a plain old wet T-shirt and an ice-cube snack? Veterinarian and Dog People panelist Dr. Rebecca Greenstein weighs in with some balanced advice for dog parents.
How Dog Cooling Vests Work
Dog cooling vests work by bringing the temperature around a dog’s body down, either through the cooling power of evaporation or ice packs. These torso-covering mesh shirts come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the goal is always the same: to keep your pet’s core cool.
Most models on the market rely on evaporation: you get the vest wet in the sink or with the hose, wring out the excess water, then strap it on your pup. Evaporation is a heat-loss process—meaning that as warmer water evaporates from the vest’s upper mesh layers, the lightweight fabric around your dog’s skin stays cool. It mimics a cooling mechanism familiar to humans: sweat.
The advantage of the evaporation model is that it’s easy to refresh your pup’s vest—all it takes is a splash of water. The downside, though, is that because they’re damp, they’re not great for use around the house; a cooling mat is a better indoor option.
Then there’s the ice-pack model, which involves slipping a pre-frozen pack into a padded fabric vest. It works like applying a cold compress and can stay chilly for hours. Ice-pack cooling vests offer a deeper chill but are a little less flexible, since they require several hours in the freezer and can’t be refreshed on the go.
Popular Dog Cooling Vests
The SGODA Dog Cooling Vest is a good example of the evaporative model. It has three layers of lightweight fabric, the flexibility to accommodate a pup’s full range of motion, and adjustable sizing with dual zippers so you can customize the fit even within sizes. Like many vests, it offers UV protection—a necessity for pink-skinned pups with especially sparse or light-colored fur. A harness leash attachment and reflective striping for visibility in low-light conditions round things out.
We liked the vest when we tried it on Ruby, a Bernese Mountain Dog with a love for all things chilly.
The Horay World Cooling Vest is one of the more popular ice-pack models. Two frozen gel packs slide into the padded vest and rest against your dog’s back. They can stay cool for anywhere from 1.5 to 4 hours (depending on ambient temperature). Pet parents favor this vest for humid climates and shorter outings, though a few noise-sensitive pups find the sound of the Velcro closures a little scary.
The CoolerDog vest and collar combo is another freezer option—though with some interesting departures from the standard design. It relies on two “Flexifreeze” packs that mold to your dog’s shape in two places: around the torso and around the neck. The two separate neoprene-and-nylon wraps have no buckles or latches, and both are machine washable. It’s a versatile option, though the frozen packs have a little less longevity than more traditional options like the Horay.
Finally, for pups who can’t stand the thought of a torso-covering vest, there are cooling bandanas like the All For Paws. These are the most flexible cooling gear, since you can either wet them and use them like an evaporative vest or stick them in the freezer for a few minutes for a deeper chill.
What the Experts Say About Dog Cooling Vests
There are two questions when it comes to dog cooling gear: First, do dogs really need help cooling off? And second, can a cooling vest get the job done?
The answer to the first question is yes, our pups do need help staying cool. While it’s easy to think dogs should be nearly as hardy as their wild ancestors, modern life and breeding have changed the score pretty dramatically, especially for brachycephalic breeds.
Dogs do sweat—but not much, and not enough for it to be an effective cooling mechanism by itself. Instead, they pant, an evaporative cooling process that can break down in flat-faced and senior dogs.
But even the sturdiest dogs can need help when the temperature climbs. Wolves don’t hunt in the heat of the day; they hunker down in cool dens. A dog who’s made to exercise or occupy a warm room is vulnerable to heat exhaustion or heat stroke—a deadly condition that requires immediate medical intervention.
So what about dog cooling vests? Can they really help keep a dog’s core body temperature down?
While there’s lots of anecdotal evidence from happy pet parents, scientific trials have been limited. A University of Florida study suggested vests might make a positive difference in helping dogs cool down after exercise—but more investigation was required.
Dog People Panelist Dr. Rebecca Greenstein thinks dog cooling vests are a good subject for further study. Cooling gear can be one tool in your belt to help keep your dog comfortable in the heat, but she says it should be part of a balanced approach that considers your climate and your dog’s activity.
There’s no substitute, after all, for a cool indoor space, and vests shouldn’t replace commonsense precautions when it comes to protecting your pet from the heat. Certain dogs—notably older dogs, overweight dogs, and arthritic dogs—may need more than a cooling vest to keep comfortable in heat and humidity. Sometimes the best solution is simply to keep your dog inside with the AC on, saving exercise for the coolest parts of the day.
For the pups who like cooling vests (and we know quite a few), there are some good watchouts to keep in mind. First, applying an ice-cold vest—especially the freezer-pack type—to a dog who’s already overheating can be counterproductive and even dangerous, as a study on racing Greyhounds suggested. Dogs showing symptoms of overheating need cool, not cold, surroundings and should see a vet right away.
A less serious problem to keep an eye out for is chafing. You’ll want to pick a cooling vest that’s a good fit, since wet fabric rubbing in the armpits can be uncomfortable for pups and people alike. Soft mesh and adjustable buckles or zippers are good for keeping things comfy.
The Verdict: Does Your Dog Need a Cooling Vest?
Though they shouldn’t be your only plan for hot days, evidence suggests cooling vests and bandanas can provide some relief for a hot dog, especially when used in conjunction with commonsense precautions (think shade, water, responsible activity levels, and good old-fashioned AC).
Rover test pups gave their cooling vests four paws up. For dogs who’d rather be clothing-free, though, cooling mats are handy, especially for indoor lounging. We’ve also found backyard dog pools a surprisingly fun and practical way to beat the heat, and frozen toys and snacks can be excellent opportunities for mental stimulation if warm weather makes your pup cranky or sleepy.
Then there’s hydration: upping your dog’s water intake can dramatically improve their comfort, either on the go with a dog water bottle or with a splashy indoor fountain that reminds pets to drink.
How We Chose
We selected the products featured here based on a combination of our own hands-on testing, a survey of customer reviews across multiple retail sites, and consultation with Dog People Panelist and DVM Rebecca Greenstein. Our selections prioritize adjustable fit, cooling power, ease of use, and UV protection. We’re also guided by the experience of living and playing alongside our own much-loved and strongly opinionated pets, who are never stingy with their feedback.
Interested in learning more about keeping your dog happy and cool this summer? Read on!