Vet advice for exercising
pets in hot weather

Summertime is nearly upon us, but in some parts of the world, any time of year could provide summer-like weather. Many people focus on getting in shape for the summer in order to show off their best beach bodies, but striving to keep fit year-round round is really the best plan for both people and pets.


In some parts of the world, summer-like weather could happen at any time of year. So for those interested in exercising dogs in hot weather, here are our top tips for promoting your pet’s best health this summer!

Is Your Pet Healthy Enough for Summer Exercise?

While all pets can enjoy some form of exercise, it’s important to determine what type of activity will suit them. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all exercise for people, and the same goes for our pets! 


Before you start your canine or feline companion on a hot weather exercise program, schedule an examination with your veterinarian to get a sense of the activities that are most appropriate for your pet’s level of physical health.


In addition to thoroughly reviewing your pet’s history and performing a physical exam, your veterinarian may want to perform baseline diagnostics. Your veterinarian may run blood, fecal and urine tests, x-rays, ultrasound, or other tests to assess for abnormalities that could affect your pet's ability to sustain exercise-related stress.


Especially during hot weather, underlying health conditions can compromise your pet’s ability to perform athletically. Examples of these conditions could be:

  • Arthritis – Joint inflammation which causes pain and lameness (limping)
  • Osteoarthritis – Arthritis that over time progresses to joint surface irregularities, which compromises a normal range of motion and mobility 
  • Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) – Abnormalities in the gelatinous discs that support the vertebral column (backbone) can lead to spinal cord and nerve compression. This may cause pain and difficulty moving, behavior changes, reduced appetite, and more.
  • Ligament/muscle/tendon injuries – Ligament (especially the cruciate ligaments in the knee), muscle, and tendon trauma can cause pain and lameness.
  • Glandular problems – Hypothyroidism, Cushing's disease, diabetes, gallbladder, kidney, liver, and pancreatic disease, and other glandular problems affect whole-body detoxification, blood and lymph flow, and hormonal balance.
  • Seizure disorders – Epilepsy, masses inside the skull cavity (cysts and primary or metastatic cancer), brain trauma or infections, and more can lead to seizures which may be more likely to occur during the stress of exercise. These conditions commonly require drugs that cause sedation, impact water consumption, and urination
  • Cancer – Lymphoma (white blood cell cancer), Hemangiosarcoma (blood vessel cancer), Osteosarcoma (bone cancer), and others affect whole-body health and generally make a pet feel lethargic, uncomfortable, or cause a lack of appetite

Overweight and obese dogs are also less able to perform at a higher intensity and are more prone to heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and stroke than dogs that are thinner and fitter.

Your dog’s breed may also have an effect on their ability to sustain exercise and exertion in hot weather. Brachycephalic (flat face) breeds like the Brussels Griffon, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, English and French Bulldogs, Pug, and their mixes generally don’t efficiently move air in and out of their nose, trachea (windpipe), and lungs. The unique physiology of these breeds makes them more susceptible to exercise intolerance and heat-related illness.

Supporting Exercising Dogs in Hot Weather

Although exercise is healthy, sometimes the trauma of activity can damage tissues or create inflammation and pain. Regular use of nutraceuticals (food-derived substances with medicinal benefits) can help support dogs with underlying problems with their joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. These supplements can also help reduce reliance on anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medications, which can have mild to severe side effects on your dog’s digestive tract, kidneys, liver, and other organs.

Nutraceutical supplements that support joints and tissues include:

Although exercise is healthy, sometimes the trauma of activity can damage tissues or create inflammation and pain. Regular use of nutraceuticals (food-derived substances with medicinal benefits) can help support dogs with underlying problems with their joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. These supplements can also help reduce reliance on anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medications, which can have mild to severe side effects on your dog’s digestive tract, kidneys, liver, and other organs.

Nutraceutical supplements that support joints and tissues include:

  • Glucosamine
  • Chondroitin
  • MSM
  • Collagen
  • Eggshell membrane
  • Vitamins (i.e. A, B3, C, E)
  • Minerals (i.e. calcium, iron, manganese, zinc)
  • Antioxidants (i.e. astaxanthin, boswellia)
  • Anti-inflammatory substances (i.e. turmeric, omega fatty acids)

Daily Activity to keep dogs healthy and active in summer

Giving your dog a daily nutraceutical supplement can support parts of the body stressed by exercise, and also serve as a tasty pill-hiding treat to simplify the process of medicating your pooch.

How to Prioritize Daily Physical Exercise

When considering how to exercise dogs in hot weather, we’ll have to start from square one: making physical activity a daily habit. We all know that exercise has emotional and physical benefits, but that’s not always enough incentive to get moving. The good news is that pet parents must walk their dogs for elimination, socialization, and exercise, so they also benefit from getting out more often!

The Pets and People Exercising Together (PPET) Study showed that people who regularly exercised with their dog stuck with their workout plan, compared to participants lacking canine companionship during activity. In addition to being loving companions, dogs are also great motivators! They often initiate exercise, add enjoyment to activities, and are a source of ‘parental pride.’
Walking your dog in the heat of summer

Walking is an appropriate activity for nearly any dog, regardless of age. Of course, some dogs have mobility issues and are less able to walk, so owners and their veterinarians must figure out activities that fit their abilities. Walking with the support of a sling/harness or on an underwater treadmill, physical rehabilitation exercises, and more can all be beneficial for senior or disabled pets.

Normal dogs lacking physical limitations can engage in higher-intensity activities like hiking, running, chasing and retrieving toys, playing with other dogs, swimming, and more. Start with short bouts of activity – say 15 minutes – then gradually work up to longer sessions as your dog’s endurance builds. Take breaks every few minutes to seek shade, provide hydration, alleviate the heat, and let your dog cool down.

Participating in activity on a consistent basis is the goal, and not every outing has to involve high-intensity exercise. Perhaps one day you take your able-bodied pooch for a summertime, early-morning hike, and the next you go for a lower-intensity walk. Both are great options for exercising dogs in hot weather!

Swimming is also a great option for warmer weather exercise as generally lakes, oceans, and pools are cooler than a dog’s normal body temperature (100-102.5 +/- 0.5F). 

Weight Management & Healthy Exercise

Weight management is a key contributor to how well your pet can handle exercising in hot weather. A key component of weight management is ensuring your pet is consuming the right number of calories per day, in order to attain optimal weight. 

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, over 60% of cats and 56% dogs (approximately 106 million pets) in the U.S. are overweight. Obesity is a preventable illness, so your pet’s quality of life benefits from keeping a lean body year-round – not just in the lead-up to summertime and warmer weather.

Weight-associated health problems like osteoarthritis will also affect overweight and obese pets more frequently. The American Veterinary Medical Association studied the effect of limited food consumption on dogs with osteoarthritis, reporting the “prevalence and severity of osteoarthritis in several joints was less in dogs with long term reduced food intake, compared to control dogs.” One simple takeaway is that reducing a dog’s portions by 25% per meal can greatly benefit their long-term health and comfort.

Owners can understand if their pets are overweight, underweight, or just right by reviewing the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) Body Condition Score (BCS) chart. BCS is a 1-9 scale where 1/9 is the extreme of thinness and 9/9 is the extreme of obesity. 5/9 is the ideal BCS score and should be the goal for our companion canines and felines.

Veterinarians are great partners for owners to determine if a pet needs to gain, lose, or maintain weight. The BCS score the veterinarian gives at the time of a physical exam should be paired with a pet’s weight as read by a scale. Pairing BCS with weight is the best way to establish a pet’s ideal weight and the number of calories they should consume per day. (instead of they, as we’re referring to a singular pet, we have it say “calories to be consumed per day.”)

Here are a few more simple strategies for reducing your pet’s daily caloric intake:

  • Use a metric measuring cup or food scale to determine the appropriate volume per feeding.
  • Minimize daily calories that come from snacks. If you must give a treat, choose lower-calorie and whole-food options such as pet-safe fruits and vegetables that are rich in fiber, moisture, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
  • Divide snacks into multiple smaller portions before serving.
  • If you use treats to train your dog, skip a meal prior to the training session and have treats replace the calories from a meal.
  • Make your pet work for any food or treats by making your dog walk across the room, perform some form of a command, or conquer a food-dispensing puzzle/toy.

Pet Health Tip from Vetnique

Apples, bananas, berries, carrots, cucumbers, and melons, are safe low-calorie treat options that are generally appealing to dogs. Avoid calorie-dense, commercially-available pet treats that have little or no nutritional value. 

Most importantly, don’t look at the need to increase your pet’s activity and regulate calories as a burden. Instead, look at the positive side: you’ll be improving your pet’s (and likely your) health while creating an overall better and sustainable lifestyle. 

Putting the Vet in Vetnique

Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ
Dr. Patrick Mahaney works as a concierge-style veterinarian through his house-call practice, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness. He loves building personal, long-term relationships with his clients to best suit their pets’ needs within the comfortable confines of their homes.

To spread his message of holistic veterinary medicine on a large-scale basis, Dr. Mahaney attained a Certified Veterinary Journalist certificate and enjoys contributing to pet-related media projects. He is also a certified veterinary acupuncturist.

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