Is there such a thing as TOO much exercise for your pet?
We all know we should exercise our pets…but can we overdo it, can we exercise too much and how do we tell what is the right amount and what is too much? Let me tell you what we’ve experienced with our dogs.
Currently, we have two senior dogs, Slimdoggy Jack who the vet estimated to be 7-8 when we got him 18 months ago, and Maggie who is almost 9. Before we had SD & Maggie, we had three senior dogs. Sally, who lived to be 13, Tino, who lived to be 14.5 and Becca who almost made it to 13. Each of them were larger dogs (2 labs and a shepherd mix) and each had varying exercise & nutritional needs.
When Sally & Tino were younger, we would run with them probably 4-5 times a week, and sometimes for long 4-5 mile runs. Sally, being a very active lab, not surprisingly developed some orthopedic issues and we had to cut back her running, but she still needed exercise, so we had to increase the walking and other activities like swimming. Tino, being an indestructible mixed-breed, never had ortho issues and he ran with us regularly until about age 12 – even though he developed glaucoma and went blind at age 9 – he still ran with us. Becca had severe orthopedic issues in her back and knees when we adopted her at age 10. She couldn’t run, but in order to strengthen her back and legs (which were badly atrophied) she needed regular walks – short walks, but multiple times a day. We also enrolled her in PT sessions where she walked on a water treadmill.
SlimDoggy Jack is another story! He was obese when we got him (20lbs overweight) and needed exercise not only to lose the weight, but to drain the extra energy he had accumulated from being locked up in a shelter for almost a year. We started him on a regular walking routine, and slowly built up to running and now he runs 3-4 times a week for 35-40 minutes and walks for 20-30 minutes at least twice a day. On occasion, he has developed a slight limp, so we immediately cut back on the running, but it has disappeared with a few days rest. Maggie, our latest addition and also a lab, was thin – too thin actually when we got her. She had spent her life in a cage as a breeder mom – she had no muscle mass at all and we had to slowly build up her strength and endurance through short walks, then longer walks until she can now run a few miles a few times a week.
My point is that there is no one size answer for how much exercise your dog needs, or even what type of exercise they need. The only constant is they all need some form of exercise – even your little guys need to move their muscles! If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably already feed your dog pretty well and exercise them regularly since you care about their fitness. And you may have read our article discussing the research that has found that our pets experience the same “runner’s high” that people do from the release of endorphin like chemicals during exercise. (See it here.)
We all know exercise is good for us and for our dogs, but to answer the question posed in the title of this piece, YES, there absolutely is such a thing as too much exercise for your pet – just as there is for people. You see those people at the gym – obsessed with their body fat, starving themselves to death, causing more damage to their body than good by the extremeness of their methods. Dogs won’t do that to themselves, but we can push them too far if we aren’t watchful of the signs they give us that they don’t feel up to it today. Maybe one of their limbs is sore or they are just tired – each pet is different and has different exercise needs. As a responsible pet owner, you need to read your pet’s behavior and their response to the exercise you provide and react accordingly to their needs. Some signals that your pet may have overdone it:
- Excessive panting during or after the exertion
- Lagging behind on a run/walk when they are normally in front
- Any lameness or limping
- Extreme thirst
- Appearing to be overtired after the exercise, sleeping or laying down more than normal
- Reluctance to go out for the walk or run or to play
- Missing cues or commands they know well
You need to be watchful and know when to cut back. Do walks instead of a run, do more frequent but shorter walks rather than one long walk, limit the number of fetches in the front yard. Swimming is a good alternative if your dog has joint problems. If, for some reason, you need to cut back on activity for more than a few days, be sure to adjust your dog’s feedings appropriately or they will start to put on weight.
And remember, as your dog ages, their needs are going to slow down. Your senior dog may try to do what they did as a puppy, but we have to remember their age and keep their exercise level appropriate. You will also want to adjust their feeding to reflect changes in activity level so that as your pet ages, they don’t slowly add weight. Any excess ‘baggage’ can really place a burden on their joints and tendons.
Reasonableness and moderation have to be your goal. If they are, you will be able to exercise with your pet their entire life…and by doing so, you will increase their longevity and have them around for longer! And isn’t that the best reward?
What types of exercise do you do with your pets? Share your tips with our readers in the comments section.