Dog obesity is rapidly becoming an epidemic. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 54% of dogs are overweight – and the number is increasing. This is worrying, as overweight dogs have a shorter life expectancy and more health problems.
For this reason, daily walks are vital for keeping your pup healthy and stimulated. Regular exercise also provides other benefits, such as strong bones and reduced destructive behaviour.
Not all dogs need the same amount of exercise though. In fact, over-exercising your pet can be dangerous too – so it’s important not to overdo it.
The most important thing is to meet your dog’s requirements. Every dog is different, so the amount of exercise they need depends on their age, breed, size, temperament and health.
With that in mind, here are five of the most common dangers to watch out for when exercising your dog.
Just like humans, water is vital for almost every function in your dog’s body. It’s involved in everything from temperature regulation to joint lubrication, so dehydration is a serious health concern.
Dehydration can be caused by many things, including diarrhoea or fever. It’s also common when a dog is over-exercised without given the opportunity to drink – especially in hot weather.
Whenever you’re on a walk, keep an eye on your dog and watch for signs of dehydration. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Excessive panting
- Lack of energy
- Dry gums
- Sunken eyes
You can also test for dehydration by checking your dog’s skin elasticity. Pinch a small area of skin and then release it. If your dog is hydrated, the skin should quickly return to its original position.
Always bring a water bottle and bowl on a walk. It’s best to provide small amounts of water regularly, rather than a single large bowl. This is especially important in hot weather, as a thirsty dog may make himself sick by gulping down too much water in a short time.
One of the scariest health conditions for dog owners is gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) – also known as bloat.
When a dog gets bloat, the stomach twists and swells. This can lead to breathing problems, prevent blood flow to the heart and even cause a stomach rupture. Surgery is often the only treatment for bloat – and if left untreated it can lead to death.
There’s still debate about why bloat happens, but it can be caused by running around after eating. It may also happen if the dog eats too quickly.
For this reason, it’s important to prevent your dog exercising after meals. Ideally, you should wait at least two hours before vigorous exercise.
3. Joint Pain
Many dogs suffer from arthritis as they age. It’s still important for these dogs to exercise, but only in a way that doesn’t aggravate their joints. A long walk with a ball throwing session, for example, might have been your dog’s favourite walk in the past, but it’s probably too much for achy joints.
One of the best ways to reduce joint pain is with low-impact activities. Gentle walks or swimming can provide the benefits of exercise without stress on joints. Make sure you also provide plenty of mental stimulation throughout the day, as this prevents boredom.
It’s best to keep exercise sessions short if your dog has arthritis. Instead of one long walk each day, split it up into several shorter walks. Avoid activities that cause your dog to jump or quickly change direction.
Also, make sure you talk to your vet about your dog’s arthritis. He or she can recommend exercise programs that might help reduce joint pain.
4. Breed-Specific Issues
It’s obvious that a big German Shepherd needs a lot more exercise than a pug. This is why it’s important to adjust the amount of daily exercise to suit your pet’s size and energy levels.
Certain breeds have other issues you need to be aware of when exercising though. Some of the most common include:
- Dachshunds are more prone to back problems than other breeds. For this reason, they shouldn’t be allowed to run up and down stairs, as this can lead to neck and back pain. You should also avoid activities that cause twisting or jumping.
- Short-nosed breeds often tire faster than other breeds, so they need less vigorous walks.
- The same goes for dogs with squashed faces (brachycephalic). These dogs struggle to breathe in enough oxygen during high-intensity activities, so you need to be careful not to over-exercise.
- Large dogs, such as a Newfoundland, may be more prone to joint pain. If possible, avoid walking long distances on hard surfaces.
5. Don’t Over-Exercise a Puppy
One of the most common mistakes new dog owners make is over-exercising their puppy. This is understandable, as puppies seem to have endless energy – but it can do long-term harm.
A puppy’s growth plates aren’t fully formed until later in life. While they are still forming, the plates are more likely to be damaged – especially by too much exercise. This can lead to pain and even deformity.
How much exercise do puppies need though? The Kennel Club recommends a puppy shouldn’t exercise more than five minutes per month of age – and a maximum of twice per day. A three-month-old puppy, for example, should get 30 minutes of exercise per day, split into two sessions.
All dogs need exercise to stay happy and healthy. That doesn’t mean they all need the same amount though – so it’s important to avoid over-exercising your pet. Make sure you keep the above dangers in mind when walking your dog, and always look for signs of lethargy, tiredness or reluctance to walk. These are some of the most common signs of over-exercise.
Richard is the Editor of The Dog Clinic with the goal to help you raise a healthy, happy and fulfilled pup.