How Much Exercise Does a Small Dog Need? (Probably More Than You Think)

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Ever wondered if your pup is getting enough exercise? One of our favorite pet pros, veterinary surgeon Dr. Courtney Campbell, joined us to answer some of our most pressing pet questions, including this one from viewer Stella, who has a chihuahua mix pup named Mosby. 

"I'm really curious how often I should walk him because I live in an apartment and I don't know how much exercise he should get. I really want to make sure that he is healthy and happy," says Stella.  

"One of the most important aspects to remember about exercise is that every dog is different," explains Dr. Courtney. "For Mosby, even though he is a chihuahua, he may need the same or a similar amount of exercise [as] a larger dog. Size isn't as important as you may think. Unfortunately, some smaller dogs miss out on exercise because people feel that smaller dogs don't need exercise. My bare minimum recommendation for exercise for all dogs is two 20-minute walks per day," he says.  

For Dogs Who Can't Complete These Two 20-Minute Walks 

If a dog has difficulty completing those walks, be sure to consult your veterinarian as there may be specific circumstances to consider. Plus, older dogs and dogs with medical conditions, or brachycephalic breeds (the smoosh face breeds), may not be able to complete those walks. So, instead there are different types of exercises that should be considered.  

For Puppies 

Let's talk about puppies. "Most young dogs (5-12 months) have enough energy to keep up with a person jogging, but they don't have the brains to know when to stop," explains Dr. Courtney. "Since many of the larger breeds suffer from joint diseases, it seems prudent to wait until growth plates close before subjecting them to vigorous or forced exercise." 

One reasonable analogy from Dr. Courtney for an owner is that a 5-6 month old dog is biologically equivalent to a 8-12 year-old child. It would be unreasonable to expect an 8-year-old child to run 3-5 miles per day at an 8 min/mile. So, it's important to remember this about puppies too.  

Since human's legs are long and a chihuahua's legs are short, Mosby, like many small dogs, is probably in great cardiovascular shape to be able to keep up with you and we want to maintain that cardiovascular shape.      

"Dogs are curious animals which means they are built for running and there are studies that indicate that dogs actually experience a runner's high when moving," says Dr. Courtney.  

Alternatives To Walks 

Dr. Courtney reminds us that there are plenty of aerobic and power-building exercises beyond just walks. "Consider things like jogging off-leash or with you, swimming, playing with other dogs, sprinting up hills, a high-speed ball chase or round of frisbee-catching, game of tug, or nose work," he says. Just keep an eye out for luxating patellas (something common in chihuahuas), as it may limit dogs' capabilities for things such as jumping.  

If your dog is reluctant to exercise, try an interactive toy with low-calorie treats inside, as that can be a helpful form of exercise. 

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