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Can you over exercise a dog?

Here at PitPat, we talk about the benefits of regular, high quality exercise for your dog a lot. On the whole, exercise is crucial for keeping your dog healthy and happy and we’re the biggest advocates of that.

However, we often get asked ‘Can I over exercise my dog?’. It’s an important question because the answer is yes, you can. Just like humans, dog’s have their limits in terms of exercise, and this varies wildly depending on the age, breed, health and the fitness level of your dog.

As a result, when it comes to deciding whether you should bring your dog along for that marathon you’ve been training for, you can’t just assume that they’ll be able to manage just because they’ve got two more legs than you!

Signs of over exercising in dogs

There are a number of signs that your pup will start displaying if they are being over exercised. It’s important for you to watch out for these, as many dogs will struggle through their tiredness and pain in order to keep going.

Stiffness and sore muscles

If your dog is stiff during or after exercise, if they struggle to get up steps or jump, they have probably had a little more than they can handle. You’ll need to make sure they have gentler walks and activity for the next couple of days until the soreness eases. 

Exhaustion after exercise

Whilst it’s not uncommon for a dog to go and have a snooze after an exercise session, if they stay that way all day it may have been a bit much for them. You can use the graph in the PitPat app to see how their activity changes after the exercise, especially if you aren’t able to watch them closely for the whole day.

Slowness or lagging behind during exercise

If your dog is lagging behind or being noticeably slower during exercise, it can be a clear sign that they are struggling, especially if they are normally out in front.  If this happens during a walk, take a break and give them some food and fresh water (make sure you’ve always got some on hand) then head back home via the quickest and easiest route. 

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is one of the most dangerous and sometimes fatal consequences of over exercising. All dogs are at risk, especially if the weather is warm or humid and/or they’ve been taking part in intense exercise. However, dogs at a higher risk include:

  • Overweight dogs
  • Dogs with thick coats
  • Puppies
  • Senior dogs
  • Brachycephalic breeds (such as pugs, shih tzus, bulldogs and boxers)
  • Dogs suffering from medical conditions

Watch out for the following warning symptoms:

  • Excessive panting
  • Confusion or lack of focus
  • Glazed eyes
  • Excessive drooling
  • Lack of coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Gums or tongue that turn bright red or blue

If you think your dog might be suffering from heat exhaustion immediately move them to a cool, shaded area, give them fresh water (but never with ice cubes) and cover them with wet cloths or let them take a dip in a body of fresh water. Most importantly, get them to a vet as soon as possible, especially if they are exhibiting severe symptoms.

So how do you prevent over exercising your dog? We’ve outlined a set of steps you can take to not only set appropriate activity goals, but also to help build up their fitness safely.

1. Set a realistic daily activity goal

To start off, you need to know what levels of activity your dog requires. To do this, read our guide ‘How much exercise does my dog need?’ and get your tailored activity goal in the PitPat app

It’s also important that you adjust your goal for your dog’s needs. Bring it down if they have health issues that limit their capability for exercise, are feeling the effects of old age or for any other reason that your vet might recommend. Bring it up if they are particularly active already – such as working dogs, or those who take part in canine sports alongside their normal exercise routine.

If you have a puppy, we’ll automatically select an age appropriate goal for them, and bring this up as they grow older until they are an adult.

2. Monitor your dog’s progress

Using a PitPat dog activity monitor, you can track your dog’s daily activity levels, including whether or not they have managed to hit their activity goals. You can use these stats to figure out whether their activity goals are just right, or whether you need to adjust them.

For example, if your dog regularly exceeds their activity goal and they aren’t showing any of the signs of being over exercised, you may wish to increase their daily goal to reflect their normal levels of activity.

3. Build up their fitness

Just like with humans, you need to build up your dog’s fitness levels to get them to a point where they can handle more intense activity or have longer endurance to join you on those mountain climbs.

Gradually increase their activity levels each day, making sure you take the odd rest day where they get a gentler walk, giving them time to recover.

Keep an eye out for signs that they might be struggling with the increases in activity and adjust their exercise routine to suit.

Duck Toller Retriever running in forest

Finally, remember that your dog will go through phases of fitness. As they move into their golden years, you’ll need to gradually decrease the intensity and amount of exercise that they do, as well as at times when they need to rehabilitate from injuries, ill health or operations. 

You can manage all of this with PitPat, helping you keep your dog healthy and happy.

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