Owners of active, athletic dogs sometimes seek out the help of their veterinarian because their pet is showing signs of exercise intolerance. These dogs may be underperforming compared with other dogs, or compared with their own usual performance standard.
Signs of exercise intolerance can be subtle, with suboptimal performance or movement difficulties noticed only by the dog’s owner or handler.
Alternatively, the signs may include profound exercise-induced weakness, episodes of collapse, or even death following exercise.
Please note the dvm360 article focuses on the conditions associated with exercise intolerance in retrievers. However, the conditions and principles of evaluating the problem in retrievers also apply to other breeds of dogs.
Exercise intolerance is a broad term often used to describe changes in a dog’s strength, speed or stamina during or immediately after activities he normally performs without difficulty.
These activities can include everything from your dog’s ability to take a walk or jump in and out of your car, to strenuous agility trials which demand short bursts of intense energy and extended periods of running and jumping.
If your normally active dog is showing sudden signs of exercise intolerance, it’s important you make an appointment as soon as possible with your holistic veterinarian to have her checked out.
If your pup is more couch potato than athlete, is overweight or is getting up in years, symptoms of exercise intolerance should still be evaluated. Your canine companion needs the ability to move comfortably and exercise regularly to stay physically and mentally healthy.
Preparing for a Visit to Your Veterinarian
Since exercise intolerance is by definition an intermittent condition which can be difficult to replicate at your veterinarian’s office, you’ll want to make some notes to take with you to the appointment.
Think about the following questions as they relate to your observations of your dog’s behavior. Jot down answers and other pertinent information to discuss with your veterinarian.
- Have you noticed any other health problems in your dog, such as coughing, sneezing, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, or changes in weight, appetite or thirst?
- Have there been any changes in your dog’s behavior, attitude or gait between episodes of exercise intolerance?
- Has your dog ever had a seizure?
- Is your dog experiencing exercise intolerance every time he exercises?
- How long after exercise begins does it take for your dog to tire or exhibit signs?
- When did you first notice the problem, and does it seem to be getting worse?
- Does your dog exhibit signs at certain times of the day or in certain types of weather?
- Are there specific activities your dog engages in that bring on an episode of exercise intolerance?
- Do the episodes seem to have anything to do with feeding time or a particular food?
- Does your dog appear stiff, lame, uncoordinated or in pain during episodes of exercise intolerance, and if so, does the problem appear in both the front and back legs?
- Does your dog pant excessively while exercising or have noisy breathing?
- Does your dog cough during episodes of exercise intolerance?
- Have you noticed any pallor, change in pulse rate or mental confusion during these episodes?
- Have you noticed a change in the color of your dog’s urine after an episode?
You might also want to videotape your dog exercising to see if you can capture the symptoms of exercise intolerance you’re concerned about. If you can play the video for your veterinarian at your appointment, it can be tremendously helpful in evaluating what might be causing your pup’s condition.
What to Expect During the Veterinary Exam
Every veterinarian has a slightly different approach to his or her patients, of course, but in most cases your holistic vet will first look for signs of abnormalities in your dog at rest, including:
- Stridor (a high-pitched noise made during breathing which can indicate a blockage or other obstruction in your dog’s airway)
- Muffled heart sounds
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Significant muscle atrophy
If no abnormalities are found at rest, the doctor will move on to evaluate your dog for possible metabolic, respiratory or cardiac conditions.
If a cause for your dog’s exercise intolerance isn’t discovered through the above evaluations, your vet will then move on to explore the possibility of muscular, neuromuscular or neurologic disorders, most of which require specialized testing.
Causes of Exercise Intolerance
There are a number of health problems which could be at the root of your dog’s exercise intolerance.
Some of the most common include:
- Obesity or lack of conditioning. Obviously, if your canine companion is overweight or out of shape due to lack of activity, he’ll lack the ability to exercise strenuously and may show symptoms of exercise intolerance when he tries to exert himself.
Your pup needs to be dieted down to a healthy weight and exercised daily to improve his level of fitness.
Obesity in and of itself can cause movement problems for your dog, and it can also trigger many other medical conditions that can also contribute to your dog’s inability to get adequate exercise.
- Bone and joint disorders. If your dog is feeling discomfort or pain from abnormalities of bones or joints, she’ll be hesitant to exercise. These types of disorders can be hard for you to detect, especially if multiple bones or joints are affected, and can occur in both young and older dogs.
- Cardiovascular disease. It’s not uncommon for dogs to develop heart problems, and exercise intolerance may be the first or only symptom you notice.
If your dog has a heart condition, there can also be signs while he’s at rest, such as a rapid heartbeat, coughing or a weak pulse.
If your beloved companion is diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, don’t lose hope. Many dogs with heart problems live healthy, active lives with proper treatment, which can include medical intervention, dietary changes, nutritional supplements, and yes, exercise!
- Respiratory disorders. If your pup develops an abnormality in one or more of the organs in her respiratory tract, she may not be able to get sufficient oxygen to tissues during exertion, resulting in symptoms of exercise intolerance.
- Hypoglycemia. Low blood sugar is a fairly common cause of exercise intolerance. Insulinomas (tumors of the functional islet cells) are often behind cases of hypoglycemia in middle-aged and older dogs. Low blood sugar is a fairly common cause of exercise intolerance. Insulinomas (tumors of the functional islet cells) are often behind cases of hypoglycemia in middle-aged and older dogs.
If the tumors are caught early, medical intervention and dietary adjustments can often bring long lasting relief.
Whatever the cause of your dog’s hypoglycemia, treatment and management of the condition will be required to insure your pup remains healthy and active.
This is just a sampling, not a comprehensive list, of the many possible underlying causes of exercise intolerance.
If your canine companion shows signs of exercise intolerance, especially if he’s a normally active dog and the symptoms come on suddenly, you’ll want to get him in for a veterinary evaluation right away.
Early diagnosis, proper treatment and necessary lifestyle changes can be the keys to getting your four-legged family member back on his feet again.