Your dog will reap a variety of benefits from regular exercise, both physical and psychological. Exercise is good for your dog’s health. It can prevent injuries, improve cardiovascular health, and maintain weight.
Consider these tips if that doesn’t work to get your dog off the couch. According to Dr. Robin Downing of The Downing Center for Animal Pain Management, Windsor, Colorado, daily exercise strengthens your relationship with your pet and helps reinforce its need for routine. One of the main reasons humans and dogs get along is because we both value structure. Dogs appreciate the predictability of regular exercise because that is in their nature.
This is not an invitation for you to overwork the dog. Downing explains that one misconception he sometimes comes across is the idea that an owner should suddenly start a vigorous exercise program for their dog if it is obese or overweight. If this happens, the dog is at risk of suffering joint injuries, back problems, respiratory issues, and cardiovascular disorders. “Heat stroke can be fatal for dogs that are overweight and exercised excessively.”
The key to moderation is balance. Gordon-Evans says that it’s not always the duration of a task but the intensity of it. Walking is less likely to cause distress for a heart-diseased dog than running, jumping or playing hard.
Read on for some warning signs that your dog is overexerting itself. Working with your vet to develop an individual exercise program is important, especially if you have a dog that has health issues, or is young or old, or a dog breed that does not tolerate intensive exercise well.
Paw Pads: Wear and tear
According to Dr. Susan Jeffrey of Truesdell Animal Hospital, Madison, Wisconsin, some dogs are more interested in playing than having painful feet. Some dogs run so fast that the foot pads tear, and then they run even faster.
Downing is a board-certified specialist in pain management and veterinary rehabilitation. Pad injuries are painful. The pain is “similar to walking with a blister ruptured on your bottom foot”, as dogs can’t move as quickly as humans.
Check the underside of your dog’s paws. The pads of overworked dogs may be red or thin, have visible skin flaps, and/or show tears. Infected pads may show swelling or pus. Concrete is like sandpaper. “It can harm the pads of an active, running dog that is spinning and jumping,” says Jeffrey. His professional interest includes preventative medicine.
Gordon-Evans is a board-certified veterinarian in sports medicine, veterinary surgery, and veterinary rehabilitation. She says that sudden stops may also cause paw pads to be injured if they are performed frequently enough.
Downing says that muscle pain or stiffness can also be a sign of too much activity in your dog. This usually occurs after the dog has rested following an excessive amount of exercise. Owners may see a struggle when the dog is about to stand up. It may be painful for the dog to touch the ground to get to its food bowl. She may even cry out when first moving about. “She may cry when she first moves about.”
Downing says that in the worst-case scenario, the dog could develop a condition called exertional rhabdomyolysis. This is a breakdown of the muscles. As the muscle tissue dies, excruciating pain is caused. These breakdown products may lead to kidney failure or damage.
Jen Pascucci is a therapist and rehab specialist at Haven Lake Animal Hospital, Milford, Delaware. She says that you can reduce stiffness, soreness, and other injuries by not subscribing the weekend warrior syndrome. Many owners are working all week, and they try to squeeze in two days worth of exercise. It is bad for your dog as they will not be properly trained and may push past muscle pain, joint discomfort, and fatigue to get some playtime with you.
Pascucci is a licensed veterinarian technician and says that some dogs are so driven to play and work, they will push past fatigue or injury. The real danger is that. It is up to the owner to set boundaries and limit the high-drive dog to avoid over-exercise-related injury and exhaustion.”
Jeffrey warns that heat exhaustion and heat stroke can be a serious problem during the warmer months. If the temperature rises above 106°F, this can lead to death. In addition to hyperthermia which can be life-threatening, dogs may also suffer from dehydration or breathing difficulties.
According to Dr. David Wohlstadter of BluePearl Veterinary Partners, a vet in Queens New York, brachycephalic dogs, which include Pugs and Bulldogs as well as Pekingese Boxers Shih Tzus are at greater risk, as they cannot cool down as effectively as other breeds. He’s never taken a French Bulldog, or Bulldog for a run. It’s not a good idea. He adds, “Just because a dog wants it doesn’t make it safe.”
Jeffrey adds that the age of your dog is another factor. Jeffrey says that very young or old dogs can have trouble regulating body temperature, and too much activity may cause them to become overheated.
Extreme exercise and its impact can lead to strains or sprains in dog joints. Downing says that the toes are most susceptible but also the elbow and wrist. Dogs put a lot of pressure on the joints of their front legs because they carry 60 percent of their body weight. Excessive exercise in dogs with straight back legs can cause knee problems, such as meniscal tears and strains.
Certain dogs have a higher risk of joint injury. Some dogs are more susceptible to joint injuries.
She says that if an older dog suffers from osteoarthritis then overexertion will cause pain immediately and accelerate degeneration.
Jeffrey advises that young puppies, especially giant and large breeds, need to be exercised. “But not too much because it can cause joint problems in later life,” Jeffrey states.
Wohlstadter is a certified canine rehabilitation specialist. A dog with a leg injury will often limp, or prefer one leg to the other. Dogs may put their heads down while walking on their good leg, and lift their head when on their bad leg.
Be aware of any behavioral changes. Wohlstadter suggests that you should consult your veterinarian if, for example, your dog is not running with you anymore.
Pascucci states that inconsistency can lead to injury and also to a lack of conditioning. Playing for an hour without a leash is not the same as exercising. Off-leash, most dogs are more active for a short time and will then relax. “It is not healthy to allow your dog to play and run in the yard five days per week, and then expect them to go jogging with you for 10 miles on one particular day.
A good plan of conditioning for pet owners and their active dogs would be to alternate between days of cardio (consistently exercising for at least 20 minutes) and strength training with a full rest day, which means a day without any planned activities.
Exercise is essential for dogs to achieve their best physical and mental health. However, the kind of exercise they need depends on factors such as age, breed, condition, and history. Jeffrey says that some dogs are built to handle heavy exercise, while others may not. Hunting and working dogs are more durable than brachycephalics. “Hunting and working dogs are able to exercise much longer before they show signs of fatigue.”
Working with your veterinarian to develop a reasonable exercise program for your pet is the best thing you can do.