Lately, we’ve been talking to lots of runners that run with their dogs. While we love hearing stories about runners and their best canine running buds, it also got us thinking about the scientific and safety aspects of running with a pet. So we contacted Tiffany Durzi, a vet with 15 years of experience (and who runs with her own dog) about how to run with your dog (safely). After graduating from the Ontario Veterinary College she practiced in small animal medicine and surgery in the Cayman Islands for seven and a half years. In 2009, she joined the teaching staff of St. Matthew’s University School of Veterinary Medicine in Grand Cayman, coordinating their small animal surgery program. In 2010, she returned to the Veterinary College. She is certified in veterinary acupuncture, canine rehabilitation and has completed her designation as a certified veterinary pain management practitioner. In short, she really knows what she’s talking about when it comes to dogs.
Canadian Running: I’ve never even heard of canine acupuncture, what’s up with that?
Tiffany Durzi: It’s a thing! Veterinary medicine tends to follow trends of human medicine. So, as people have become increasingly interested in alternative therapies for themselves, it has spilled over to animals.
CR: So, are you kind of like a dog physiotherapist?
TD: We use the term rehab therapist because in Canada the title of physiotherapist is actually a registered name. But, essentially, yes, my job for animals is similar to what the purpose of a physiotherapist is for people.
TD: Most of the information is extrapolated from human medicine since there’s a lot of information about racing dogs, like huskies and greyhounds, but not much on your regular dog. Like with humans, it is best to wait until growth plates are closed. For most breeds, this is around the one year mark. However, for bigger breeds, like a lab or a golden retriever for instance, you would want to wait until they’re 16 to 18 months old before you start taking them on any serious runs. You can do some light running or conditioning before then.
The thing with dogs and especially younger puppies is that they can’t tell you what their limits are and they will want to do absolutely everything in their power to keep up with you, even if it means hurting themselves. So, if you do begin running with your dog once they’ve stopped growing, it’s important to build up their distance just like you would introduce a person who’s new to running. Don’t ramp up mileage too quickly, or set the pace too fast. I would recommend starting your dog off with a run/walk program.
TD: Again, the recommendations for this generally mimic those for humans. So, providing that your dog doesn’t have any underlying orthopedic injuries, there’s nothing wrong with working them up to the distances that you yourself are running. But again, I would stress the fact that you need to build them up to those distances gradually.
CR: What are some things I should look out for that indicate that my dog needs to turn around?
TD: Obviously, if there’s any sort of lameness or limping being demonstrated, the run needs to be ended. I would be wary if your dog starts trailing behind. Most dogs will have an instinct to lead, or at the very least, stay level with their owner, so falling behind may be an indication of fatigue. When I run with my own Jack Russel terrier/pug mix, when I see him dropping back I know it’s time to head home.
We have to remember that dogs don’t have sweat glands except for on the bottoms of their feet. They have to pant to get rid of excess heat. Especially in the summer time, your dog’s fur coat is going to limit the amount of time they can spend out running.
TD: Bring along some water for them. In the summertime, I would try to head out for runs in the morning or evening when temperatures and humidity levels are lower. If you’re running along a route that has a body of water, letting your dog cool down with a swim is a great idea.
CR: Is it okay to let my dog drink water off of the trail?
TD: That is a very good question. There would be some risk involved with that. If your dog is drinking from a puddle or a stream, it could contain run-off from sprayed crops or fecal material, which is a risk for worms or parasites. My suggestion would be that if you wouldn’t drink it yourself, don’t let your dog drink it.
CR: Should I bring along mid-run fuel for my dog?
TD: I would be careful about doing that. There is a condition in dogs called gastric bloat and vets are still not completely sure what causes it. The stomach becomes bloated and in some instances can even flip on itself, which results in an emergency situation. There is some thought that eating followed by intense exercise can exacerbate this condition. I would definitely recommend taking water, but waiting until you get home and have finished your run is probably your best bet for food.
TD: Nutritionally, what dog owners should be doing is determining their dog’s baseline healthy weight and ensuring that they are feeding them enough. If you’re training for a marathon and your dog is running with you, they’re likely burning a lot more calories than they would normally be, and will need to be fed extra to maintain a healthy weight. I advise pet owners to ask their vet what the healthiest weight for their dog is.
CR: Does my dog need flea and tick medication?
TD: Yes, that is very important. We’re finding that in recent years the tick population is moving north of the border. Some ticks have the ability to transmit lyme disease, so that’s a very serious health risk for humans as well as animals.
CR: What should I do if my dog attains a running-related injury?
TD: Oftentimes, you can treat your dog’s injury the way you would treat your own pain. The R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compression, elevation) rule applies to dogs as equally as humans for acute injuries. If you notice your dog is limping, you can try icing the affected area for ten minutes on, ten minutes off, with an ice pack covered in cloth.
If your dogs has a recurring injury, you should seek advice from a canine rehab therapist, the same way that you would visit a physiotherapist for a recurring issue.
If you have a neat story about running with your dog, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to be a part of our series.