Some people do it all the time. They pack a week’s worth of activity into a weekend with pickup football games, long hikes, or marathon sessions at the gym.
While most people expect to pay for their exercise spurt with achy muscles, stiff joints, and possible injury, many dog and horse owners don’t realize their animal partners experience the same risks and discomforts after a long weekend on the trail, at the park, or in the show ring.
Our animal companions are at the same risks for injury as their humans, which may include delayed onset muscle soreness, sprains, strains, soft tissue tears, joint injury, bone bruising, or inflammation and foot pain. Horses are also at risk for laminitis and tying up. Tying up (also known as exertion rhabdomyolysis) is caused by severe muscle inflammation and can lead to muscle tissue damage, causing a muscle pigment called myoglobin to be released into the blood stream. This pigment is filtered by the kidneys and in large amounts can cause kidney damage, which could potentially be fatal to the affected horse. This is a medical emergency and a veterinarian should be contacted immediately for urgent treatment.
If you have overdone it with your dog or horse, a visit to your veterinarian is likely in order. Your veterinarian may prescribe medications to help with inflammation and pain, cold therapy, support bandages, massage, passive range of motion exercises, and rest. Do not use human pain medications for your companion animals.
This is where we should heed Benjamin Franklin’s advice: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You need to condition your companion animals’ bodies for the exercise you want them to be able to endure, and you need to take their potential limitations into consideration as well. An English bulldog is not built for marathon running.
A horse turned out to pasture, or a dog put out in the yard is not going to exercise themselves enough to challenge their body’s tissues to gain the strength and flexibility required for more strenuous activities. Owners need to put in the time to regularly exercise their horses and dogs three to four times per week for 30 to 45 minute sessions, or longer once the animals are in good shape. If you can’t do this personally, it might be a good idea to consider hiring a trainer.
To avoid injury, it’s also important not to overdo exercising an unfit animal if they’re normally only exercised intermittently. Be mindful that you’re determining workout duration and intensity, and don’t push your companion too far. You also need to consider the age of your pet. Immature, growing animals and geriatrics cannot perform to the same levels as mature young adults. If you need some guidance on what’s appropriate for your animal, consult with your veterinarian. The take-home message is to ensure your animal’s body is fit enough for the task ahead — and if it isn’t, then be sure to put the time and training in to get them there first.
Dr. Kim Jones joined the North Peace Veterinary Clinic care team in 2009 after graduating with distinction from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.