Exercise Restriction in Dogs

By Catherine Barnette, DVM

What is exercise restriction?

Exercise restriction refers to the act of intentionally limiting a pet’s physical activity. Veterinarians often recommend exercise restriction to allow a pet to heal after a surgical procedure or injury, although it may also be recommended to prevent worsening of a medical condition. Different circumstances require different degrees of exercise restriction, so your veterinarian’s guidance is essential when implementing exercise restriction.

How will exercise restriction help my pet?

Exercise restriction can be recommended for a variety of different reasons.

After surgery, most pets need a period of exercise restriction to allow healing. In the case of abdominal surgery, such as a spay or cystotomy (bladder stone removal), veterinarians typically recommend one to two weeks of exercise restriction. In this case, exercise restriction is intended to protect a pet’s incision and internal sutures until healing has occurred. Pets undergoing orthopedic surgery, in contrast, typically require a far longer period of exercise restriction. This allows the bones adequate time to heal before they have increased forces placed on them through activity.

"After surgery, most pets need a period of exercise restriction to allow healing. "

Exercise restriction may also be recommended to manage a pet’s injury. For example, dogs with back pain that is caused by intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) often benefit from a period of exercise restriction. Restricting activity decreases forces that are placed on the spine during movement, allowing time for inflammation to subside. In this case, activity restriction alleviates a dog’s pain and minimizes the risk of disease progression.

Finally, exercise restriction is a component of managing some medication conditions. Dogs with heartworm disease, for example, require exercise restriction before and heartworm treatment, as well as for a short time after treatment. Physical activity increases the likelihood of adult worms causing a pulmonary thromboembolism, which may be fatal. Limiting a dog’s physical activity decreases this risk.

How should I limit my dog’s activity?

Depending on your dog’s condition, your veterinarian will make specific recommendations regarding the degree of exercise restriction that is recommended. Some dogs require complete kennel rest, while others can be taken for brief leash walks around the block as long as more vigorous exercise is avoided.

Common instructions for exercise restriction may include:

  • Leash walks only. Avoid letting your dog run loose in your backyard or other areas, where they could become distracted by a bird or squirrel and take off running. A leash gives you more control over your dog’s actions, helping you limit running and jumping.
  • Short walks only. Avoid long walks around the neighborhood or on trails. If your veterinarian encourages or permits walks, take several short walks each day.
  • No rough play. Avoid playing fetch and tug of war, or otherwise roughhousing with your dog. If your dog plays with other pets in the home, you may need to separate them during this time.
  • No stairs. Confine your dog to a single floor of your home to prevent the use of stairs. If this is not a realistic option, talk to your veterinarian to brainstorm possible solutions.
  • No jumping up onto beds or furniture. Jumping on and off elevated surfaces can place a lot of strain on your dog’s body.
  • Confinement. Depending on your dog’s condition, your veterinarian may recommend confining your dog to a crate or a small room, to further minimize activity.

Your veterinarian will provide specific guidance related to your pet’s condition.

What should I do if my dog gets loose outside or otherwise gets more exercise than intended?

If your dog gets loose or otherwise receives more physical activity than intended, contact your veterinarian to determine the best course of action for your dog. Your veterinarian may simply have you observe your dog at home for signs of pain or other problems, or your veterinarian may want to schedule a recheck appointment to assess for possible damage. Open communication with your veterinarian is essential to determining the best course of action for your pet.

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