Knowing when you can start running with a puppy is important considering that puppies have delicate bodies when young.
Yet, when it comes to puppies, it may be tempting to start running with them so to drain all that boundless puppy energy, but it's important to consider the impact exercise may have on puppy growth plates.
The growth plates of a puppy can be injured and the resulting deformity can be severe causing several complications.
You therefore want to play it safe and avoid putting excess strain on these delicate structures until your vet gives you the green light for taking your pup along for jogs.
What are Puppy Growth Plates?
To better understand puppy growth plate problems, it helps to gain a better insight into what puppy growth plates are, their primary function and when a puppy's growth plates close.
Growth plates, also known epiphyseal plates, are areas of soft cartilage that surround the end of most long bones.
Scottish surgeon John Hunter studied growth plates in great detail in the late 1700s.
His studies on growing chicken revealed that bones do not develop from the center outwards, but rather bones grows lengthwise as new bone is generated at the end of long bones, right where the growth plates are located.
John Hunter's studies granted him the nickname of "father of the growth plate" and his contributions have surely helped both humans and animals.
When Do Puppy Growth Plates Close?
In simple words, the term "growth plate closing" means ossifying or transforming into bone tissue. The growth plate therefore continues to add to the length of the bone up until the age at which it's genetically programmed to close.
Puppy growth plates close at different times, and even the size of the dog matters.
For instance, in puppies of small breeds, the growth plates close earlier compared to puppies belonging to large breeds.
A Chihuahua's growth plates may therefore close at around 10 months, whereas, in a very large breed puppy such as the great Dane they may close anywhere between 16 and 18 months, explains veterinarian Dr. Marcia.
Among the different bones, the growth plates of the proximal humerus and tibia are ultimately the last to close.
Growth Plate Injuries in Puppies
A pup's growth plates are made of fast multiplying cells which enable the bones to grow in length and strengthen in density.
"If a growth plate injury occurs, these fast multiplying cells might respond to the injury by slowing down their growth. In more extreme cases, if enduring a more severe injury, the cells may even completely cease their multiplication and just stop growing," explains veterinarian Dr. Ivana.
For example, let us assume that the right leg’s femoral bone (more precisely, its proximal growth plate) sustained an injury.
The cells in that growth plate will stop multiplying or at least slow down. The growth plates in the other three extremities though will continue to grow at a normal rate.
When the growth plates close, that dog will have three properly developed legs (the two front and the left hind leg) and one shorter leg (the right hind leg), further points out Dr. Ivana.
When Can You Start Running With a Puppy?
With developing puppies, activities such as jogging or running are best to keep postponed until the puppy is fully grown.
For example, with a 16-week-old German shepherd puppy it may be wise to not do any jogging until he is fully grown. It may therefore be a good idea waiting until 10-12 months of age to play it safe, points out veterinarian Dr. John.
It may also be a good idea to skip anything that puts a lot of pressure on the pup's developing joints such as excessive and repeated jumping as when catching a Frisbee, hurdling through obstacles or steep hiking.
Sustained vigorous exercise, leg-twisting activities or very rough play should also be avoided.
Even surfaces on which pups are exercised need to be watched. Turf offers a more forgiving surface and better traction compared to hard cement or asphalt.
Due to the fact that growth plates close at different times based on factors such as size and breed, it's best to check with your veterinarian before starting running with your puppy.
How Can I Know When My Puppy's Growth Plates Have Closed?
How can a dog owner know for sure whether a dog's growth plates have closed or not? Again, the best option is to talk to the vet before starting puppies on any rigorous exercise or sport training regimens.
For the best peace of mind, consider than with an x-ray it is possible to see whether the bones have fused or not.
On an x-ray, the vet will be able to tell whether the growth plate has morphed into a solid, integral part of the bone leaving its only trace of existence under the form of an epiphyseal line.
With a large breed dog such as a Doberman, an x-rays carried out at a year may not provide much information. It may be best to wait until the pup is 18 months so to confirm good knees, elbows and hips, suggests veterinarian Dr. Scott.
Is Walking A Puppy OK?
Walks are OK for puppies. A large breed puppy should have no problem walking a couple of miles twice daily. With walks, pups tend to know their limit and will start taking breaks and slowing down if it's too much.
Of course, it would be important watching for signs of overheating as pups can get dehydrated very quickly. Bringing along water and avoiding the hottest times of the day is fundamental.
If your puppy is excessively panting or appears in distress, take a break from walking or playing considering that some pups will exercise until they get overly tired and almost risk a heat stroke.
How Much Exercise is Too Much for a Puppy?
Veterinarians have agreed on a so-called five-minute rule. The rule provides pups and young dogs that are still growing with age and breed-suitable exercise regimens while preventing unwanted injuries.
The five-minute rule states that every puppy should be assigned with five minutes of physical exercise (twice a day) per month of age.
Following that rule, a one-month-old pup should have two, five-minute lasting sessions of physical activity per day.
A two-months-old pup should have instead two, ten-minute lasting sessions of physical activity per day, while a three months old pup can be physically active for 15 minutes, twice a day.
Of course, such activities should not include jogging, running or repeatedly jumping which as mentioned risks causing harm to the delicate developing growth plates.
Alternate Activities to Running With a Puppy
As a puppy owner, you may be desperately seeking ways to drain all your pup's energy. Fortunately, there are several activities that require zero physical engagement while sharpening the mind and offering a fair amount of mental stimulation.
Organize treasure hunts. Hide a portion of your pup's kibble in the home or yard and let your puppy search. Just make sure your pup is not left unsupervised at any moment. The new surroundings can be dangerous to a small puppy.
Start basic training. Puppy training classes will keep your pup’s mind engaged, and contrary to popular belief, tiring the mind is also tiring on the body. Not to mention early basic training goes a long way when raising a well-behaved dog.
Use Food Puzzles. Puppies are always open for a challenge and what's more fun that working for their meals. Use a Kong Wobbler, Buster Cube or a Nina Ottosson puzzle to keep your pup busy.