Dogs share many characteristics with human beings, but one they do not have is the ability to talk with us. Maybe that will happen in the future, but today when they get achy after too much exertion, we can only assume based on what we see or hear from them.
You are not alone if you ever wondered, “Do dogs get sore muscles after exercise?” The answer is yes, dogs feel pain in muscles after a strenuous day of running, walking, or jumping more than usual.
While canines cannot communicate specifically what bothers them, their body language, and ability to perform simple tasks, can hint that it might be a good time for some rest.
Are Dogs’ Muscles the Same as Humans?
It is true that muscles in dogs are very similar to those in human beings ~ as muscles are in all mammals.
Muscles are cells that evolve over a long, long period of time to perform specific tasks to let bodies move.
Cells evolve over time to better do the job commanded of them. Muscle cells are no different. If it appears a larger cell would help make a certain task easier, or better, it stores that information to be passed on to new cells down the line.
One could liken it to new car models each year: same car, but with improvements based on past experience.
Muscles are bunches of cells, which can enlarge when the body demands they work harder. Hence getting “buffed up” with a lot of weight lifting.
Animals that do specific acts repeatedly, like run to catch prey, sprint to escape a predator, climb trees to reach fruit, etc. The bodies of these animals adapt to these needs and get shaped accordingly.
Why Dog Muscles Ache
Our muscles can send pain signals to the brain when they are overworked, or damaged during exertion.
For the overworked muscles, pain the following day or 2 is the muscle cells’ way of saying a break from all the hard work is needed. (The scientific reason is a buildup of an acid in the muscles).
If, during that hard work, a muscle cell is torn or strained, then it too will let the brain know.
Dog brains also get these signals from the muscles. They just can’t verbally communicate about it, like the whining about “being sore” like humans tend to do.
What Can Cause Dog Muscle Aches?
Just like with humans, causes of muscle aches can fairly easily be determined over time, by the activities undertaken just prior to the pain commencing. Such as:
- Intensity of activity. Did you force your dog to run and sprint harder than usual?
- Duration. Maybe taking the dog along on that 10-mile hike was too much, too soon.
- Age. Older dogs are more prone to aches from muscles, tendons, and aging joints, too ~ just like humans.
- Hydration. Water makes up about a third of the composition of muscle cells, so always, always have plenty of water available for your pets.
- Uniqueness of activity. Maybe your pet had to run upstairs a lot more than usual, or maybe swim all day. Doing different activities might use different muscles, which previously were under-worked, hence new pain.
- Suddenness. Was a dog forced to move very suddenly? Emergencies or fright can produce adrenaline boosts and fast-activated muscles can get injured this way.
How to Tell if a Dog’s Muscles Ache
Ever worked out really hard, and muscles started to hurt the next day? How about it getting even worse on the second day?
That’s when your dog will probably show muscle ache signs. During rest after strenuous activity, acids build up in the muscle tissues, which send pain signals to the brain basically asking for a respite.
How your dog might hint that his or her muscles or joints hurt:
- Struggle to get upright after lying down.
- Refusal to walk, or jump up stairs or into a car.
- Refusal to eat because lowering the head hurts (you know your dog is in pain if this happens!).
- Crying or whining while moving.
Typically you’ll know if there is an injury because dogs will absolutely refuse to do even basic tasks.
About Muscles and Mammals
Except for single-cell organisms, all living animals depend on muscles to power physical movements and posture. Along with the muscles our brain uses to walk, for instance, there are involuntary muscles like the cardiac muscle that beats our hearts.
In most animals, among all the tissues that make them up, muscle is the most abundant. The food we eat provides energy for the muscles to make body movements.
The same is true for dogs. The big difference is the sizes of muscles for us compared with dogs. Each animal develops muscles according to its lifestyle and environment, basically.
For instance, because we stand upright on 2 legs, our thigh and rear-end muscles are large, much larger than the arms. Yet look at a dog: the upper portions of the legs are about the same size
Tips to Avoid Muscle Soreness in Dogs
Don’t Force Boot Camp For Dogs
Forcing a dog to endure brutally hard workouts in a day or consecutive days, to “make up” for a light week, can cause muscle aches in dogs.
Dogs are not conditioned to undergo weekend boot camp-like exercises. And because your dog might like all the time with the owner, or add “playtime,” he or she might push through the pain to continue.
Be careful with dogs with high drives to work and play. Just like with workaholics in humans, too much work can prove harmful.
Weight Control = Combined Balance Diet and Exercise
Probably far too often, owners of overweight dogs try to “burn off” all the fat by boosting exercise hours and intensity significantly. It’s the wrong approach to weight control.
Having too much weight on a body already produces stress, on the cardiovascular system, and on muscles and joints which must bear the added weight.
Add to that very strenuous physical activity and you risk back injury, joint damage, back pain, respiratory trouble, or even a serious cardiovascular problem.
Always with dogs be cognizant of the weather. Too hot and over-exerted canines can suffer heat stroke which sometimes can be fatal.
Moderation Good for Exercise Routines
The “big I’s” are important to remember for dog training or exercise: intensity and impact.
It might not necessarily be the length of a walk that causes trouble, but how hard you push the dog compared with usual routines.
Changing a walk suddenly ~ say with a lot more sprints or jumps ~ can over-exert muscle cells or damage joints.
It’s okay to try to get your dog exercising more for its health. But jumping straight into 15-mile hikes is not a smart way to do it. If you were beginning weightlifting tomorrow, would you start by bench-pressing 200 lbs.?
You might communicate with the canine’s veterinarian about devising a workout plan good for the dog’s age, breed, and health. Set reasonable goals, and over time build up to them.
Dogs and Sore Muscles: Summary
Dogs and humans share the same muscle structures and benefit from exercise to keep those muscles strong and healthy, along with other positive attributes.
Consistent, yet not too strenuous, exercise is great for building muscle mass, keeping joints flexible, and preventing injury. Exercise is good for a canine’s mental health!
But too much exercise can make your pet achy. Consistent and predictable exercise routines are best, because dogs then are familiar with what to expect, making the canines and their handlers happier over time.
Question: Are dogs and humans also the same skeleton-wise?
Answer: No, dogs have quite a few more bones! We have 206 bones, while canines have about 320, depending on tail length. (We lost some bones when our tails disappeared a long time ago).
Q.: Does that mean dogs have more muscles?
A: Yes, needed to bind all those bones and joints together. However, dog muscles tend to be smaller mainly because their weights are lower. Our big leg muscles are there to hold a lot more weight, and upright at that.
Family Dog Expert Author
Hi there! I’m Stuart, a devoted dog lover and family dog expert with over a decade of experience working with our furry companions. My passion for dogs drives me to share my knowledge and expertise, helping families build strong, loving bonds with their four-legged friends. When I’m not writing for SirDoggie, you’ll find me hiking, playing with my beautiful dog, or studying music.