A Message from the Vet - October 2013
Safe Exercise Guidelines

Exercise is an important part of everyday life for humans as well as their canine counterparts. Many people acquire their pets with the dream of running together. They can be wonderful exercise companions and also good motivation to continue exercising. However, it is important to exercise safely. Here are a few guidelines when it comes to exercise and your pets:

  1. It is essential to make sure your dog is fully vaccinated prior to venturing out into the world. A puppy should receive at least 3 vaccinations approximately one month apart (around 8,12, and 16 weeks) before being allowed to exercise in areas where there may be organic material (feces or urine) from other dogs. Parvovirus can live in the environment for up to three years, possibly longer in the right conditions. It's best to be patient and keep puppy's access restricted to ensure your furry friend will have many happy years to experience life.

  2. Age is more than just a number when it comes to exercising you pet. It's very tempting to begin an exercise program right away with a young puppy, especially when a tired dog is a good dog! However, a few studies have shown that restricting exercise in young, growing animals may decrease incidence of joint disease (such as hip dysplasia) in dogs that are genetically predisposed. A puppy's growth plates (where their bones grow and develop normally) close around 12 months of age. Our recommendation is to restrict the amount of exercise to small bursts of exercise with frequent periods of rest until dogs are at least 15-18 months old.

    Don't forget that diet is important for growth and develop as well. Larger breed dogs require different nutrient levels to allow the proper rate of growth for healthy joints, and a large breed puppy diet is recommended until their growth period is completed.

  3. When your pet is mature enough to participate in more intensive exercise, it's important to consider the time of day. Many pet owners are surprised to hear that walking their dogs in the heat of the day (between the hours of 10-4) may lead to burnt or traumatized pads. It's best to pick a time in the early morning or evening to avoid pad trauma and heat exhaustion.

  4. Terrain and body condition are also considerations. Hiking is fun for all, but rough terrain may also cause trauma to your dog's footpads. Doing short hikes and gradually increasing the length over time can help their pads adjust to the new terrain and also help prevent overexertion and muscle/joint injuries. There are also special dog booties available that provide protection and grip during outdoor activities.

  5. Breed can play a role in determining appropriate exercise. Facial confirmation affects a dog's ability to expel heat. Brachycephalic (short-nosed) dogs like bulldogs may have difficulty cooling themselves after strenuous exercise and quickly over heat.

  6. When hiking or exercising you need to maintain hydration for yourself and your dog. There are several options available to provide hydration such as collapsible water dishes or water bottles specially made for dogs. There are even harnesses with pouches, so your dog can carry his or her own water. Make sure to offer water to dogs frequently during a hike, after all they're wearing fur coats!
When starting an exercise program for your dog we recommend going over it with your veterinarian first. Together we can ensure your companion will have a long healthy life with many opportunities to enjoy exercise with you.

Candice Denham, DVM

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Last updated 2014 May 10.