Exercise is an essential part of any health regimen—both for humans and our canine companions. Dogs are naturally active animals. In nature, the ancestors of today’s dogs hunted in packs, often ranging over vast areas in search of prey and water. This activity helped early canids adapt to their environment and build a strong cardiovascular system.
If you exercise with your dog, you may have wondered how human exercise stacks up against its canine counterpart. What’s a safe heart rate for your pet? Are you over-exercising your dog? How much exercise is appropriate for your pet? Can you measure your dog’s heart rate? Let’s explore the answers.
What Is a Normal Heart Rate for Dogs?
The canine heart, like ours, has four chambers, two atria and two ventricles, separated by four one-way valves. There is no single healthy heart rate for every dog. Heart rate (measured in beats per minute, or bpm) varies according to the size of the animal, with larger breeds like Great Danes and Saint Bernards having slower heart rates than small breeds like Dachshunds and Chihuahuas.
- Resting Heart Rate: According to the World Animal Foundation, the normal resting heart rate for smaller dogs (<30 lbs) is 120–160 bpm, with larger breeds (>30 lbs) ranging from 60–120 bpm. Puppies can have rapid heart rates at birth, which may increase to 220 bpm at around 2 weeks of age before leveling off around 160 bpm as adults.
- Heart Rate During Exercise: During exercise, heart rate increases with metabolic demand, where it may reach 260–300 bpm. In healthy dogs, this rate quickly returns to normal with rest. A consistently elevated heart rate, or one that does not return to normal after exercise, may signal a problem. Similarly, episodes of increased heart rate without exercise are also a reason for concern.
If your dog presents with any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian. Heart rhythm defects can have serious consequences and may signal a larger problem. Fortunately, many are treatable with medications, so see your vet as soon as possible.
How Can You Check Your Dog’s Heart Rate?
Knowing your dog’s resting heart rate provides you with valuable information about your pet’s health. To measure your dog’s heart rate, follow these steps:
- Have your dog lie on its side.
- Place your hand low on the dog’s chest, near the elbow joint.
- Feel for a pulse (you may have to reposition your hand until you feel a strong beat.)
- Count the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiply by 4. This will provide you with an approximate heart rate in beats per minute.
- You may also take your pet’s pulse by finding the femoral artery, located along the rear inner thigh near the groin. As with the heart rate, count the beats for 15 seconds and multiply by 4 to yield beats per minute.
This information lets you know your pet’s normal resting heart rate. By taking your pet’s pulse regularly, you can note any changes or anomalies. If something seems unusual (such as a rapid heart rate that does not slow with rest, or a persistently low heart rate), contact your vet, as these may be signs of an underlying health problem.
Is It Safe to Go Running or Jogging with Your Pet?
Most healthy dogs can benefit from exercise. But before you take your pooch on a long jog, there are some safety issues that are worth noting.
- Check with your vet to ensure that your pet is healthy enough for exercise.
- Not all dogs are built for long jogs. Smaller breeds like Dachshunds and Chihuahuas can’t keep pace with human strides for long distances. Short-snouted breeds like bulldogs and pugs may have trouble getting enough air during strenuous exercise, while large breeds such as Danes and St. Bernards risk orthopedic problems if they are overexercised.
- Some breeds known to enjoy jogging with their humans include Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Vizslas, Weimaraners, Pointers, Collies, and Australian Shepherds.
- Be sure your pet has access to water as needed.
- Pause for breaks if your animal seems stressed.
- Bring poop bags. Your pet will likely need a pit stop along the way.
- Be sure your pet has a comfortable collar or harness. Harnesses and collars should fit securely but should never impede your animal’s breathing
- Equip yourself and your pet with reflective gear if you plan to be jogging near roadways after dark.
- Plan your route. Your jog should be fun for both you and your dog, so map out a route that won’t overtax your pet.
- Consider weather conditions before you head out. Avoid jogging with your pet in excessive heat. Remember, dogs can’t sweat to cool their bodies and must rely on panting and drinking, so you may choose to limit exercise on those steamy days.
As always, observe your pet’s behavior. If they seem to be struggling to keep up, or are panting excessively, take a break. If your pet’s heart rate shows any abnormalities during or after exercise, contact your vet. They may suggest an in-office evaluation to determine the cause of your pet’s distress, and to administer the appropriate treatment.
Like humans, dogs need and enjoy exercise. Checking your pet’s heart rate is easy, and with a little practice you’ll be able to do it consistently. Knowing your dog’s resting and exercise heart rate can help you spot potential health problems before they become serious.
If you plan to take your pet jogging, be sure you have the okay from your vet, and bring the things you’ll need to keep both you and your dog safe.
We hope these tips help you live your best life with your furry friends!