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Exercise Needs for Dogs with Heart Murmurs: A Guide for Owners

exercise for dog with heart murmur

If your dog has been diagnosed with a heart murmur, your Vet will have graded it from 1 to 6, with 6 being the loudest murmur. This means that you will need to adjust your dog’s activities to allow them to enjoy themselves without putting too much stress on their heart. 

How much exercise does a dog with a heart murmur need? Dogs with a heart murmur graded 4-6 need restricted physical exercise three times a week to avoid putting excessive strain on their heart. Mental exercises like puzzles and stuffable toys to lick can be given daily. Dogs with a lower grade 1-3 may be able to live a normal life. Consult your vet for the best advice for your dog’s condition.

So, if ball chasing, swimming and running are off the exercise agenda, what can you do to keep your dog’s brain and body active without putting their health at further risk?

Exercise ideas for dogs with heart murmurs

Short walks

Most dogs love their walkies and this shouldn’t need to change too much. Take shorter walks and keep an eye on your dog.  If they usually pull but are now behind you, start panting or sit down because they’re tired, then end the walk. 

Sniffaris

Instead of the same ol’ route, take your dog somewhere new for a sniffari adventure. Meander through the woods and let them sniff and snuffle the trees, plants and forest trails.

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Exercise ideas for dogs with heart murmurs

Keep them on the lead and watch that they don’t try and scavenge on the walk. Especially in Autumn when acorns and conkers are on the ground, they are particularly dangerous to dogs.

Fifteen minutes of sniffing is the equivalent of a 2-mile walk in doggy exercise points.

Puzzle games

Mental stimulation can provide much relief from boredom for your dog. Easy puzzles such as the Muffin Tin Game can be quickly organised from a few objects at home. Other brain games can be bought, like this one from Nina Ottosson, which provide a challenge to help your dog develop puzzle-solving strategies.

OUR TOP PICKS: See what our top dog puzzles for 2021 are

puzzle games for dog with heart murmur
Puzzle games are a good workout for dogs with heart murmurs.

Stuffables

Kongs and other stuffable toys present an excellent opportunity to provide cognitive, sensory, environmental and, of course, food enrichment. It will slow down eating times and provide a relaxing and stress-free activity that they will enjoy. There are many types of stuffable toy, and you can use lots of different ingredients for fillings to mix it up and keep it interesting.   Here’s a great roundup of 15 recipes for stuffing as well as ideas for toys to stuff.

READ NEXT:  20 Great Enrichment Ideas for Your Deaf Dog

Trick Training

Training is a great time to bond with your dog, and you can pick easy tricks first and then chain them together to make a little routine.  They provide plenty of enrichment and will get both your brains working with a little physical activity. Try these five tricks:

  • High Five
  • Take a Bow
  • Sit Pretty
  • Ring a bell to go out 
  • Retrieve a dropped item

Here’s my list of 40 tricks you can teach your dog.

Find it! Game

Nose work is an excellent exercise for your dog. It offers your dog the opportunity to use their sense of smell, brain, and body to sniff out the treats you hide. It can be played indoors on a rainy door, out in the garden or on a walk. Here’s my step-by-step guide to playing the Find it! Game.

Training Refresher

Whatever level of training your dog has you can spend some time refreshing their skillset. Take one basic command at a time and work on that. You can take the training up a level by changing the criteria. For example you could aim to: 

  • Improve their response time to your command by only rewarding when they perform the desired behaviour within your time criteria e.g one second.
  • Add some distance to the sit command i.e. you are further away when you give your cue
  • Add duration to a stay command, one second at a time.
  • Add in distractions to strengthen the command response e.g. other people in the room
  • Change the location of training to help generalise the command eg kitchen, living room, garden

Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek is a great game to play in the house or in the garden. It encourages your dog to pay attention to you and learn that searching for you is fun. This can be an indispensable skill for when you are out and about to help them not wander off on walks.  

  1. To play indoors, pop a treat on the floor for your dog and point to it. 
  2. When they are busy and attention is not on you, slip out the door to the next room and hide.
  3. Wait a moment, then call your dog. 
  4. As they enter the room you may call them again to help them locate you.
  5. Give them plenty of praise and a treat when they’ve sniffed you out.

We have floor to ceiling curtains so often stand behind them. Hiding behind a sofa or under the cushions is good fun too!

hide and seek game for dog with heart murmur

The Weave

The aim of this exercise is for your dog to zigzag between objects. This is usually cones or poles but you can use any objects you have at home and make a course. Keep the pace slow so you don’t overexert your dog.

  1. Place the cones in a straight line leaving plenty of space between them so your dog can walk easily between them. 
  2. Lure your dog with a treat to walk through the first two cones. Give praise.
  3. Lure back through the next two cones and praise. 
  4. Keep zigzagging slowly through the cones til the end and then praise and give them your dog the treat. Repeat 5 times.
READ NEXT:  Muffin Tin Game for Dogs: Food puzzle enrichment

Flowerpots make good weave cone alternatives in your garden.

When is a good time to exercise a dog with a heart murmur

Dogs with a heart murmur are usually intolerant of hot and humid days so take short walks very early in the day. You can use more mental exercise activities in the summer to help keep their mind stimulated, such as puzzle games.

The rest of the year you can set a schedule to suit your dog.

Try to leave 30 minutes after mealtimes before walks and physical activities to reduce heart strain.

How can I tell how much exercise to give my dog with a heart murmur?

If your dog can play and exercise as normal without panting and doesn’t show any lethargy signs, you can probably exercise as normal. If your dog gets short of breath early, wants to cut its walk short or stops to recover during the walk, then that is too much exercise.

Consult your Vet for advice on how much exercise to give your dog for their specific condition.

Will a heart murmur improve with exercise and diet?

Heart murmurs can disappear if the underlying cause has been treated. If your dog is a puppy and has been diagnosed with a soft murmur then there is a good chance they will outgrow it by the time they are 4-5 months old.

Vet Explains Heart Murmurs in Dogs

Heart Murmur FAQS

What is a heart murmur in dogs?

When listening to the heart with a stethoscope an abnormal heart sound is heard that is caused by turbulent blood flow through the heart valves, or across abnormal structures in the heart. They are graded depending on their severity wih 1-3 being mild and 4-6 more severe.

Signs of heart murmurs in dogs

Panting, signs of physical weakness, increased respiratory rate and a reduced ability to play and exercise as normal, are all potential indicators of a heart murmur and should be investigated by a vet.

Can puppies get heart murmurs?

Soft or ‘innocent’ heart murmurs can occur in puppies and will usually go away by 14 weeks. Loud heart murmurs should be evaluated by a cardiologist to determine if congenital heart disease is present.

Do older dogs get heart murmurs?

Heart valves degenerate over time and older dogs may develop heart murmurs. Murmurs may indicate a leaky mitral valve which is where the blood flows backwards into the heart.  In larger dog breeds murmurs may be caused by dilated cardiomyopathy, a weakened heart muscle.

Exercising your dog with a heart murmur 

Dogs with heart murmurs can live fulfilling and enriched lives with help from their owners. Carefully chosen activities that do not put excess strain on the heart will help your dog enjoy their days. These activities are just a few that you can play together and help stimulate your mind, body, and soul for a better life. For more activities and ideas, go to the Enrichment section.