5 Signs Your Dog Is Getting Too Much Exercise

By PetMD Editorial. Reviewed by Veronica Higgs, DVM on Jan. 23, 2024
australian shepherd running in a field with a woman watching from behind

Exercise provides your dog with physical and mental benefits. It keeps joints limber, promotes cardiovascular (heart) health, decreases the risk of obesity, strengthens the human-animal bond, and reinforces your dog’s need for routine.

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 pet parent must suddenly erupt into a rigorous exercise plan for the dog,” says Dr. Robin Downing, hospital director of The Downing Center for Animal Pain Management in Windsor, Colorado.

But how can you tell if your dog is getting too much exercise? Here are some signs of overextension to look out for.

Signs of Overextension in Dogs

1. 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, and Downing describes it as “like walking on a ruptured blister on the bottom of your foot.” This makes walking painful for them.

Look at the bottom of your dog’s paws. Overworked pads may have tears with visible flaps of skin present, and they may appear red, worn away, or thinner than normal. If the dog’s pads are infected, you may see swelling or pus.

2. Sore Muscles

Muscular pain and stiffness are also signs your dog may be getting too much exercise. “This typically shows up after the dog rests following excessive exercise,” Downing says.

Signs of sore muscles in dogs include:

  • Struggling to rise after lying down

  • Refusing to walk up or down stairs

  • Reluctance to jump, such as up onto the couch

  • Whining when moving

You can help reduce soreness and stiffness by unsubscribing to weekend warrior syndrome, says Jen Pascucci, a rehab therapist and veterinary technician at Haven Lake Animal Hospital in Milford, Delaware. “Many pet parents work all week and try to fit in a week's worth of exercise into two days off,” she says. “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 playtime.”

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

3. Heat Sickness

Heat exhaustion and heatstroke 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 (flat-faced) dog breeds like Boxers, English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Pugs, Pekingese, and Shih Tzu, are at even greater risk because they can’t cool off as efficiently as dogs with longer snouts.

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

Pet parents should always use caution when exercising their dog during summer months, especially when it’s humid or hot. Consider short activities during the cooler parts of the day. 

4. 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% of their weight on their front limbs, which puts quite a bit of stress on those joints,” she says. 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 that are long and low to the ground (like Basset Hounds and Dachshunds) have unusually shaped joints, 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, over-exertion can cause immediate pain and accelerate the ongoing degeneration of joint tissues. Young puppies (especially large and giant breeds) need some exercise, but too much high-impact exercise like running can result in joint issues as well.

5. Behavioral Changes

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

Inconsistent conditioning can contribute to this behavior and to injuries, Pascucci says. “Playing off-leash for one hour does not mean [it’s] one hour of exercise,” she says. “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 a pet parent 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.

How Much Exercise Should I Give My Dog?

Dogs need exercise to maintain peak physical and mental well-being, but the type and length of that exercise depends on their condition, health history, breed, and age. Some dogs, like Labrador Retrievers, are built to be heavy exercisers while others, such as French Bulldogs, are not.

Moderation is key, and time spent exercising isn’t as important as the intensity of that exercise. For example, going on a walk is much less likely to overexert a dog than running, jumping, or harder play.

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

By Paula Fitzsimmons

Featured Image: Adobe/Sebastian

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