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5 Signs Your Dog Is Getting Too Much Exercise

By Paula Fitzsimmons

Exercise provides your dog with a myriad of physical and mental benefits. “It keeps joints limber and promotes good range of motion, maintains muscle mass, which can help prevent injury, and helps to maintain cardiovascular health, decrease obesity, or maintain appropriate weight,” says Dr. Wanda Gordon-Evans, an associate professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota, Saint Paul.

If that’s not enough to coax your canine companion off the sofa, consider this. Daily exercise can strengthen your relationship and reinforce your dog’s need for routine, says Dr. Robin Downing, hospital director of The Downing Center for Animal Pain Management in Windsor, Colorado. “One of the reasons dogs and humans get along so well is that we both appreciate structure in our respective worlds. Regular exercise provides a day-to-day predictability that dogs truly appreciate, simply because it is their nature.”

However, this isn’t an invitation to overwork your dog. “One misconception I sometimes encounter is that if a dog is overweight or obese, then the owner must suddenly erupt into a rigorous exercise plan for the dog,” Downing says. “Should that happen, there is real risk for joint injury, back injury, respiratory distress, or cardiovascular problem. Heat stroke is a huge problem (and an often fatal one) for obese dogs who are exercised too rigorously.”

Moderation is key. “Much of the time it is not the length of time performing the task, it is the intensity and impact of the activity that matters,” Gordon-Evans explains. “Walking is much less likely to trigger distress in a dog with heart disease compared with running, jumping, or hard play.”

If you’d like to start your dog on an exercise regimen or just want to make sure your current one is sensible, read on to learn about some signs of overexertion. Experts stress the importance of working with your dog’s vet to create an individualized exercise plan—especially if your dog has health conditions, is old or young, or is a breed that doesn’t tolerate intense exercise very well.

Wear-and-Tear on Paw Pads

For some dogs, playing is more important than painful feet, says Dr. Susan Jeffrey, a veterinarian with Truesdell Animal Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. “Some dogs will run until the pads on their feet tear and will then run some more.”

Pad injuries can be extremely painful, says Downing, who is board-certified in veterinary sports medicine and rehabilitation and pain management. It’s “like walking on a ruptured blister on the bottom of your foot.” Dogs can’t get off their feet as easily as we can, “which makes any and all walking torturous.”

Look at the bottom of your dog’s paws. Overworked pads may have tears with visible flaps of skin present, may appear red, worn away, or thinner than normal. If infected, you may see swelling or pus. “Think of concrete as being like sandpaper. It can damage the pads of a running, spinning, jumping dog,” says Jeffrey, whose professional interests include preventative care.

Sudden stops can also create paw pad injuries “if the sliding stop is performed often enough to wear off the tough outer layer of the pad,” says Gordon-Evans, who is board-certified in veterinary surgery and veterinary sports medicine and rehabilitation.

Sore Muscles

Muscular pain and stiffness is another sign your dog may be getting too much exercise, Downing says. “This typically shows up after the dog rests following excessive exercise. When the dog is ready to get up, the owner may notice a struggle. The dog may refuse to walk up or down stairs, may refuse the next meal because it hurts to reach down to the floor to the food dish. She may even cry out when first moving about.”

In the worst case, Downing says a dog may develop exertional rhabdomyolysis, a condition in which the muscle tissue breaks down. “As the muscle dies, it causes excruciating and generalized pain. The breakdown products can in turn lead to kidney damage or failure.”

You can help reduce soreness and stiffness (and other injuries) by unsubscribing to weekend warrior syndrome, says Jen Pascucci, a rehab therapist at Haven Lake Animal Hospital in Milford, Delaware. “Many owners work all week and try to fit in a week’s worth of exercise into two days off. This is not good for the dog because they are usually not properly conditioned but will push through warning muscle and joint pain and fatigue for play time and owner time.”

Some dogs have such a strong drive to work and play that they’ll push through severe fatigue and potential injury, says Pascucci, who is also a licensed veterinary technician. “That is the real danger. It is up to the owner to set boundaries and limit the high-drive dog to avoid over-exercise-related injury and exhaustion.”

Heat Sickness

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are especially a concern during warmer months when dogs can overheat, Jeffrey says. “If the body temperature increases to above 106 degrees, it can be life-threatening. Aside from causing potentially life-threatening hyperthermia, dogs can also become dehydrated or have difficulties breathing.”

Brachycephalic breeds—which include short-nosed dogs like Bulldogs, Pugs, Pekingese, Boxers, and Shih Tzus—are at even greater risk because they can’t cool off as efficiently as others, says Dr. David Wohlstadter, a veterinarian with BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Queens, New York. “I wouldn’t ever take a French Bulldog or a Bulldog on a run, I think that’s a terrible idea.” But he’s seen it. “Just because your dog really, really wants to doesn’t mean it’s safe for them,” he adds.

Your dog’s age is also a factor, Jeffrey says. “Very young and old dogs have difficulty regulating their body temperatures, so too much exercise can cause them to overheat as well.”

Joint Injury

The impact associated with extreme exercise can cause strain and sprain in various dog joints. Toe joints are particularly susceptible, but the wrist and elbow are also at-risk, Downing says. “Dogs carry about 60 percent of their weight on their front limbs, which puts quite a bit of stress on those joints. In dogs with very straight rear legs, excessive exercise can lead to problems in the stifle (knee) joints, including strain, sprain, meniscal tears, and tears in the cranial cruciate ligament.”

Some dogs are at greater risk of developing joint injuries. Breeds who are long and low to the ground—like Basset Hounds, Dachshunds, and Pekingese—have unusually shaped joints, she adds, “which puts their limbs at risk for easy injury in the face of excessive exercise.” Back problems are also common in these breeds.

If an older dog has osteoarthritis, she says over-exertion can cause immediate pain and actually accelerate the ongoing degeneration of joint tissues.

Young puppies (especially large and giant breeds) need some exercise, “but not too much as it can result in joint problems later in life,” Jeffrey says.

A dog who has sustained a leg injury may limp or favor one leg over the other, says Wohlstadter, who is certified in canine rehabilitation. “Dogs will sometimes put their head down when walking on the good leg and raise their head up when they’re walking on the bad leg.”

Behavioral Changes

Also be aware of behavioral changes. For example, “if your dog normally likes to run with you, but plops herself down on the pavement and refuses to go further, this is something you might want to investigate with your family veterinarian,” Wohlstadter says.

Inconsistent conditioning can contribute to this and to injuries, Pascucci says. “Playing off leash for one hour does not mean one hour of exercise. Most dogs will have bursts of activity and then rest when off leash and left to their own devices. Being free to run and play in the backyard five days a week and then expected to jog with an owner 10 miles one day is a recipe for injury.”

She says a good conditioning plan for active pet parents and their dogs is to alternate days of cardio exercise (consistent exercise for 20 minutes or more) and strengthening with one full day of rest, which is a free day with no planned activities.

Dogs need exercise to maintain peak physical and mental well-being, but the type they should get depends on their condition, health history, breed, and age. “Some dogs are built for heavy exercise while others are not,” Jeffrey says. “Hunting and working dogs have more endurance than the brachycephalic breeds. The hunting and working dogs can exercise for a much longer period of time before showing signs of being tired.”

It’s good to know the signs of over-working your dog, but it’s even better to prevent issues—and the best way to do this is by working with your vet to create a sensible exercise plan for your best pal.

Read more: 6 Signs Your Dog Isn’t Getting Enough Exercise

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Biking With Your Dog…Safely

 

Are you a biker who feels guilty every time you buckle your helmet on and head out the door as your dog whines sadly, knowing that you’re going off to have fun without her? Maybe you have been worried that your dog can’t keep up with you, or that her leash will get caught in the bike wheels, but there are ways to include your dog in the ride. Here are a few of the basics.  

Getting Your Dog Ready for Exercise

If your dog actually has the energy and stamina to trot along side of you as you bike, great! This is a perfect way to get exercise. But even if your dog appears to be in the best of health, you should have your veterinarian check your dog over before starting a new exercise routine like jogging — which is essentially what this is. You will want to be sure that your dog doesn’t have any underlying conditions that could be worsened by strenuous exercise. Also, if your dog is overweight, jogging is usually not the best way to begin a new routine; it needs to be built up to with a regular walking routine first.

Once your dog has been cleared for exercise, you can buy the necessary gear. Essentials include a non-tangling lead; a body harness (attaching the lead to only a neck collar could be dangerous; attach the lead to a fitted body harness instead); a brightly colored reflective vest for your dog (you may also apply reflective tape to your dog’s vest); blinking lights for your dog and bike (you can get a collar that has lights embedded in it, or use an attachable tag sized light); a small first aid kit for little nicks that can occur; an extra lead for detaching your dog from the bike to do other things; and water bottles for you and your dog.   

Extras that can make the ride more enjoyable are dog booties — hiking grade to protect your dog’s feet from jagged objects and from slippery or hot (or cold) concrete; a bike lead “baton” that can be attached to the body of the bike to hold the lead — and the dog — away from the bike’s wheels (as opposed to holding the lead up by the handlebars); reflective rain gear or cold weather cover-ups for inclement weather; and a dog backpack so your dog can carry her own water bottle and treats.

Getting Used to Riding

If your dog has never been around your bike before, start off by walking the bike along with the dog — you on one side and your dog on the other — just to get her acquainted with being attached to the bike. If possible, try to use paths that are soft, like grassy or dirt paths.

As you do these practice “runs,” begin using the commands you will be using for biking, such as for slowing down, making turns, stopping, or for bringing your dog’s attention back to you when she is distracted by something. Try (as best as possible) to choose words that are specific to you and your dog so that she is not confused by hearing other people use the words. Over time she will become accustomed to these new commands and will be able to anticipate your actions

Don’t expect your dog to be able to run for long distances in the beginning. Just like us, dogs need some time to acclimate to an exercise routine. Start off by riding at a walking speed on an easy path for a short distance. As she gets used to this over a week or two, build up to a trotting speed after a ten minute warm-up walk. Observe your dog at all times and stop immediately if she appears tired, is panting heavily, drooling excessively, or loses coordination (this may be signs of hyperthermia). If she seems to be slowing down, stop and allow her to rest and have a drink.

Remember, this isn’t a race. Pedal at a pace that will allow your dog to keep up easily. Watch your dog closely. Any distraction (another dog, animal, or person) that causes your dog to pull away can cause both of you to take a tumble.

During the ride and when you take breaks, remember to give your dog lots of praise for being a good biking partner.  

hyperthermia

High body temperature

acclimate

To become accustomed to new actions, surroundings, environment, or companions. Ex: a dog may need to acclimate himself to a new home upon adoption from a shelter.

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5 Stretches for Senior Dogs

By Monica Weymouth

If you’ve ever gone to a yoga class, you know how good a proper stretching session can be for your body. The stiffness melts away, the aches mysteriously dissolve and, over time, your joints become stronger and healthier.

While your pup might not be up for a vinyassa flow, he could benefit from a stretching routine—especially if he’s approaching his golden years.

“Stretching can be a great tool to help pets maintain mobility and comfort as they age,” says veterinarian Christina Fuoco, medical director at Philadelphia’s Whole Animal Gym. “An arthritic joint can stiffen up and some range of motion exercises can help preserve function, as well as decrease pain.”

As always, if you suspect your dog has arthritis or is experiencing any discomfort, a visit to your veterinarian is in order. Once you understand your senior dog’s needs and limitations and have discussed a stretching regimen with your veterinarian, try these therapeutic stretches with your canine companion.

The Bicycle

Don’t tell the Instagram yogis, but a stretch doesn’t have to be elaborate to be beneficial—in fact, it barely has to stretch. “One of the best ‘stretches’ is actually just moving the joint through range of motion and not putting significant tension on the muscles,” Fuoco says. For aging dogs, she recommends gently “bicycling” the hind legs, a motion that warms the joint fluid and improves blood flow to help joints and muscles feel more comfortable. This passive stretch also helps improve the gait of senior pets, allowing them to stay active.

Shoulder Extension

As a certified canine rehabilitation therapist, Sasha Foster is a stretching evangelist. “The importance of stretching your older dog cannot be overstated,” she says. Her e-book, “Old Dog! Exercises and Stretches to Feel Good,” details a variety of stretches, including the shoulder extension. To perform it, have your dog lie on his side and stabilize the shoulder joint by placing one hand over the point of the shoulder and applying gentle pressure. Place your other hand under his leg and gently lift it parallel to the floor. With the elbow straight, gently move the leg toward the head until you feel resistance, then hold for 20 to 30 seconds.

Sit and Stand

As our pups age, many of us will stop giving them “sit” cues if the motion appears to be challenging. This could be a mistake—and, in fact, could actually contribute to future discomfort. “Sitting and rising to a stand is a wonderful active exercise to help improve range of motion in the hips and knees,” Fuoco says. It’s important to determine if your dog is, indeed, comfortable enough to do the familiar motion—if he resists or shows aggression, these are clear signs it’s too intense. To determine your senior pet’s limits and the appropriate amount of activity, Fuoco recommends consulting with a rehab specialist.

Hip Flexion

If hips are a problem area, consider this gentle stretch, a favorite of Foster’s for senior dogs. As your dog lies on his side, place the palm of one hand over his upper back leg bone to support the joint. Place your other hand under the leg, lifting it parallel to the floor. Allow the knee to bend, then slowly guide the leg along the side of the body until you feel resistance; then, hold for 20 to 30 seconds.

The Play Bow

The “play bow” is aptly named—it’s the motion a dog does when he’s preparing to play, whether with another animal or with his human. When in the position, a dog brings his chest low to the ground and his front legs stretch out in front of him. Fuoco recommends the stretch for after walks or vigorous activity. “A play bow is a nice stretch to the groin muscles, an area that many dogs will over-work if they have any subtle knee injuries,” she says. To encourage your dog to bow, do the position yourself—he’ll likely reciprocate, and everyone will enjoy a nice stretch.