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Can dogs overexert themselves? Treatment for muscle soreness in dogs.

15 Nov, 2016

We regularly hear about the physical and psychological benefits of daily exercise for our dogs but is there such a thing as too much exercise?

It is obvious to us that asking our dogs to perform in extreme weather conditions or stressful situations can overexert the dog and lead to other health conditions too.

However, the most likely scenario for a dog to overexert themselves is to be asked to perform unusual or sporadic high intensity exercise. Imagine a dog that is not walked or exercised during the week. On Saturday morning the dog is taken to the beach to run and play with other dogs for a couple of hours. While the dog may have a great time, it is likely they will overexert themselves and exhibit symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS.

DOMS is a condition that occurs in humans and animals after unusual high intensity exercise. It is characterised by muscle soreness and restricted movement. Typically, these effects are seen from 8 – 48 hours after exercise. For the dog who visits the beach only on Saturdays, you may see no signs of soreness or restricted movement, because the dog does not move much throughout the week.

While DOMS does not represent a serious injury, it does affect the dogs’ performance and increases the risk of serious injury. In humans suffering from DOMS risk factors of serious injury include:

  • Reduced cushioning effect during landings (when running or jumping) due to a restricted range of motion. Reduced capacity is the result of a limited range of motion

  • Change in co-ordination may lead to unaccustomed loading on other muscle groups.
  • Reduced force and output may result in compensation in other muscle groups leading to overloading and strain.

As dogs have similar musculature to humans, it is reasonable to expect that similar risk factors would also apply to them.

Prevention & Treatment for DOMS


Regular exercise is the best way to prevent DOMS in dogs. Consistent and appropriate exercise, conditions our dogs for the types of activities we want them to perform and is key to preventing muscle soreness.

As an example, if you want your dog to run with you, then start off with intervals of slow and brisk walking in one session. In another session, you may work on endurance, walking for a longer distance. Ideally your programme should also include some rest days and sessions focussed on the fine motor skills you dog will be required to perform.

When designing an exercise programme you need to consider your dog’s age, health condition and the environment (i.e. surfaces – hot concrete, weather, time of day, equipment) in which you will be exercising them.


Pre and post exercise stretching is recommended as a preventative measure for DOMS in humans despite some studies showing no preventative effect at all. It is thought that stretching post exercise could disperse the oedema (accumulation of blood) which accumulates after tissue damage.

As a treatment, gentle stretching lengthens muscle fibres so is effective in reducing muscle soreness and restoring normal range of motion.


Post exercise massage is thought to be effective in reducing the symptoms of DOMS in humans. Massage increases the blood flow to the site of muscle injury, reducing prostaglandin production which limits further damage associated with the inflammatory process.

As well as increasing blood flow, massage elongates and relaxes tense muscle fibres to reduce muscle soreness and restore the dog’s range of motion.

For assistance with preventing or treating delayed muscle soreness in your dog, please contact me at Full Stride provides massage and physical therapy to keep your dog mobile and pain free.


Cheung, K, Hume, P.A. & Maxwell, L 2003 “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: Treatment Strategies and Performance Factors” Sports Medicine: 33(2): 145-164

Munehiro, T, Kitaoka, K, Ueda, Y, Maruhashi, Y & Tsuchiya, H 2012, “Establishment of an animal model for delayed-onset muscle soreness after high-intensity eccentric exercise and its application for investigating the efficacy of low-load eccentric training” Journal of Orthopaedic Science, March 2012