How much exercise is too much? In short, it depends on your dog! Let’s look at the evidence to help us make an informed decision.
Exercise will vary from puppy to puppy - and we need take in to consideration their breed, personality and level of fitness
Breeds at risk of joint problems may be more at risk from certain types of exercise, as are pups that are prone to being overweight
Some high impact exercise types, and activities that involve lots of twisting or jarring of the joints, may increase the risk of damage that could lead to arthritis
Avoiding this type of activity until a dog is fully grown is wise…
...BUT we want to get puppies out in the world once they are vaccinated to make sure they see as many new things as possible, and normal exercise is good for them
Don’t forget that playing with them at home is also exercise!
Exercise and puppies is very individual to your dog
Each dog should be assessed individually based on their breed, temperament and physical status
Puppies should be free of hip and elbow dysplasia, and genetic predisposition to joint damage
A HUGLEY important environmental issue is to keep puppies a correct Body Condition Score and not let them get overweight.
Certain high impact exercises, twisting or jarring may be risk factors for damage
Avoiding jarring, high concussive (a hard blow or collision) activity may be a good recommendation
I’ve been told that exercising puppies can damage their growth plates, is this true?
Understanding what the growth plate is can help us to answer this question.
The growth plate, also known as the epiphyseal plate, is an area of cartilage at the ends of the long bones in growing pups. New bone grows here making the bones get longer, and your puppy get taller! These growth plates can be seen on xrays, and close at a fairly predictable age depending on the size of dog:
In toy and miniature breeds generally we see closure at 6-8 months of age
In some large or giant breeds of dogs they may remain open until 14-16+ months of age
There is no evidence that normal exercise can damage the cartilage in growth plates, but high impact, jarring, repetitive exercise may cause damage:
In one study running after balls and sticks thrown by the owner were identified as risk factors.
This was supported by another study that showed jarring/ prolonged exercise, such as running after a ball or stick at high speed, might lead to the development of certain joint conditions.
What about the risk of exercise to their joints as they grow?
This is also a good question! And there are a number of studies that examine the risk to joints in the early life of a pup.
One study looked at hip dysplasia and found that dogs that were kept on a floor covered with a slippery material were more likely to develop hip dysplasia, compared with dogs kept on non-slip flooring.
Another study found an increased incidence of hip dysplasia in puppies climbing stairs from birth to 3 months of age. This study also suggested that regular off-lead exercise was protective against hip dysplasia.
A further study found that pups fed ad lib, or that regularly chased a ball or stick, were more likely to develop hip or elbow dysplasia.
Of course we mustn’t forget that some breeds of dog are more prone to joint problems but we can see from these studies that overweight pups, or those doing high impact, jarring exercise, seem to be more at risk. We also shouldn’t underestimate the importance of their home environment in those early weeks and months.
When can I go running with my pup?
This is a question vets are asked with increasing frequency. Studies indicate “moderate” running with our dogs is fine, provided they are “skeletally mature”, ie their growth plates have closed. In fact, one study subjected skeletally immature dogs to 15 weeks of jogging 40km per day (!) and found no change to their cartilage - though it’s unlikely we would find many owners who would want to subject themselves, never mind their pups, to this regime!
We do of course have to bear in mind whether their breed is prone to joint problems. But so long as they don’t have joint problems and are skeletally mature, you are good to go! Just remember to build exercise up gradually to build fitness, just as you would in yourself.