Highly athletic and in-shape dogs can become injured through a variety of types of activities. Often the very athletic dogs can twist, turn or simply overextend a joint, resulting in swelling and pain. In some dogs certain hereditary factors can also make a particular dog or breeding line more prone to those health problems than other dogs in the same breed of different lines. Many of the common sports or activity related health conditions in dogs can be treated through rest and recovery with rehabilitation of the injured muscle or joint, however without proper treatment and modification of the activity the condition will only get worse.
Almost all dogs have an incredibly high tolerance for pain compared to what humans could or would tolerate. There are some dogs that are exceptions to the rule, but typically all dogs will not show really noticeable signs of pain or discomfort unless it is significant. This means that a dog with a minor joint or muscle pain or discomfort will often show no physical signs of the problem other than a slight favoring of the leg or affected joint. If owners aren't observing carefully these minor injuries go unnoticed and therefore untreated until they are very serious and already highly painful for the dog.
Dogs that are very competitive or overly active will not stop what they are doing because they have damaged a ligament or hurt a leg or a joint. There are many cases of animals, especially dogs, that continue to compete in different types of events when they have severe injuries such as cuts, broken bones or even metabolic conditions that are life threatening. Since pain tolerance is so high in dogs it is essential that owners watch dogs that are either new to an activity or are acting unusual in any way to determine if the slightly change in behavior is problematic or just an adjustment to a new routine.
Congenital or Inherited Conditions
A congenital condition is present from birth and is not something that develops later on in life due to an injury or a disease. Likewise an inherited condition is also within the genetics of the puppy when he or she is born. It may not be expressed or seen in the dog if he or she only inherited the gene for the condition from one of the parents in the case of recessive genetic conditions. In dominant genetic conditions the puppy only has to inherit the gene from one parent and it will dominant or override the healthy gene of the pair inherited from the other parent.
Congenital or inherited conditions can be made worse by specific types of exercises, depending of course on what the problematic condition may be. Some congenital or inherited conditions may not be affected at all by exercise but will progress as the dog ages regardless of what the owner or the dog does.
The biggest concerns for most breeds that pertain to these types of conditions and exercise are hip dysplasia and patellar and elbow luxation. Hip dysplasia is inherited and becomes evident as the dog ages. It is a malformation of the hip that erodes the cartilage and causes painful movement. It is often closely associated with arthritis and can be treated and managed with early detecting and careful, non-stressful types of exercise. Hip dysplasia cannot be caused by exercise but dogs can injure their hips through falls and injury if they are very active and do a lot of jumping or activities that include a lot of sudden turns, stops or sideways movements.
Elbow and knee (patellar) luxation are basically like a floating kneecap for a person. The grooves and mechanisms that hold the knee and elbow in place actually slip and are too loose to support the joint. Again, sudden movement, jumping and twisting all can contribute to the problem but are not the cause of the condition.
Stiff muscles can occur in a dog that is working hard or that has not been gradually built up to intense or stressful exercise and has suddenly become active. Muscles become stiff due to several factors including damage to the spine causing partial paralysis, arthritis or degenerative joint disease or even due to obesity that puts additional strain on all the joints and muscles in the body.
For stiffness that is not related to a health condition and is a result of a lot of unusual activity the same treatments that work for humans can work for dogs. Slow, routine exercise, massage, heat applied to the area and even joint supplements can all work to ease stiff muscles and provide a better range of motion. Since there are very serious neurological disorders that often first show up as stiffness that comes and goes and moves from joint to joint, consult your vet to ensure there are not any underlying health issues.
A poor diet is not a result of too much exercise, but a poor diet coupled with energy demands on the dog is going to cause a bunch of different health problems that may end up looking like exercise related conditions. Dogs that are not fed enough protein and easily digestible types of foods will end up loosing weight, having horrible, dry looking coats, and showing marked lethargic behavior. This may not show up initially but will start to show as the exercise level continues to increase.
For some dogs with poor diets diabetes may also become an issue. One of the early signs of diabetes in dogs is poor stamina and lack of energy. If this is coupled with increased water consumption, frequent urination and weight loss despite eating it is critical to get your dog to the vet immediately. Untreated diabetic dogs need to be closely monitored during exercise as they can go into a coma and even die when the blood sugars become out of balance.
Always research your dog's breed and find out what level of exercise is best. In addition know what to watch for with regards to physical changes that may indicate a health issue that is becoming more pronounced or serious because of exercise levels and intensities.