Can a Dog Run Itself to Death? (Solved & Explained!)

Some dog breeds have been so well-trained to remain “on the hunt” that it is possible for them to run too hard for too long and die from exhaustion and heat stroke. Not every breed has as strong of an intrinsic need to continue running, but most breeds will continue running and playing as long as their owners tell them to.

The rest of this article will explain the reasons behind dogs running themselves to death, and what you as an owner can do to prevent this.

Table of Contents

  • Why Do Some Dogs Run Too Hard?
  • The Medical Dangers of Overrunning
  • Overrunning and Heat Stroke
  • Signs Your Dog Is Running Too Hard
  • Other Overrunning Issues

Why Do Some Dogs Run Too Hard?

Some dogs, like hounds and retrievers, were bred to have especially determined and resilient hunting instincts. Such dogs were expected to keep up a hunt long enough to tire out whatever animal was being hunted.

Even specific dogs from hunting breeds that don’t engage in this kind of persistent pursuit nowadays may still retain their natural hunting instincts, which will push them to continue running or otherwise exerting themselves past the point of safety.

In other cases, a dog may continue to run even while in a weakened or exhausted state because their survival instincts are telling them to get to safety from a perceived danger. If a dog feels unsafe, it may run beyond a healthy point because the dog feels like it will die if it doesn’t stop fleeing.

The Medical Dangers of Overrunning

Dogs that are unused to long bouts of physical activity can easily become overexerted if being played out or run far longer than normal. A dog that only goes for daily 15-minute walks is almost guaranteed to have trouble lasting for an hour-long walk. By the end, that dog will probably be dragging its feet.

Certain dog breeds, like chihuahuas, can became exhausted even after a relatively short walk because they have a harder time regulating their blood sugar and maintaining healthy energy levels. A dog can face a similar problem if it develops diabetes.

Smaller dogs that are less suited for running, such as Yorkies, chihuahuas, or pugs, may be at a greater risk of running themselves to death due to their lower blood sugar levels and smaller hearts and lungs. In addition, pugs have trouble breathing even during normal situations because of their shorter skulls and snouts.

Apart from simple exhaustion, another major concern is heat stroke, which occurs when your dog gets too overheated from overexertion, especially in hot and/or humid conditions. As described below, heat stroke can cause many potentially lethal complications in your dog.

Because of these reasons, even if your dog is used to running for relatively longer distances, you should still give it breaks when needed and provide water to help the pet avoid overheating.

Overrunning and Heat Stroke

Veterinary specialist Dr. Justine Lee says that to determine if the current weather is suitable to go for a run with your dog, combine the temperature in Fahrenheit with the current humidity. If the two numbers total more than 150, it is too hot for your pet.

This means that if it is 80 degrees outside with a humidity level of 70% or higher, it is too hot to go for a run with your dog.

Dogs are at a greater risk for heat stroke than humans thanks to several factors, including:

  • The insulation provided by their coat of fur
  • An inferior ability to relieve overheating through sweat because dogs can only sweat through their paws’ sweat pads
  • A lack of ability to run at a regular, steady pace the way a human can
  • A desire to obey their human masters, even if that entails running too hard
  • Difficulty breathing in some breeds due to a shorter skull and snout (aka “brachycephaly”)

To avoid overheating your dog on a run or even a brisk walk, try to aim for exercising outdoors at cooler hours, such as earlier or later in the day. No matter when you go out, always keep a close eye on your dog to make sure you’re not pushing it too hard or running it for too long at a time.

Signs Your Dog Is Running Too Hard

If your dog becomes so tired on a run or even a walk that you need to push or pull the animal on its leash to get it to keep moving, you’ve pushed it too hard for too long. You will need to give your pet a chance to rest, and you should give it some clean water if any is available.

Overly tired dogs may show exhaustion, lethargy (i.e. excess tiredness and lack of energy), excessive panting, a faster heart rate, limping, and even anxiety. Like humans, dogs are also more injury-prone (e.g. joint injuries) when tired. An exhausted dog may also struggle to take normal steps or jump as high as it normally does.

Prevention of heat stroke or exhaustion is the best way to keep your dog safe, but if you fail to do so and your dog experiences these symptoms, bring your pet to a cool spot, give it plenty of water, and watch your dog for any major changes.

If your dog is specifically suffering from a heat stroke after a run, it may show more extreme symptoms, such as vomiting, darker-colored gums, diarrhea, and even bruising or kidney failure. If your dog’s condition worsens to this point, take it to a vet as soon as possible to receive potentially lifesaving care.

Other Overrunning Issues

On a less potentially lethal note, dogs may also experience pain in their pads due to overrunning. Too much pressure placed on the pads over time due to running can lead to abrasions that expose the more sensitive tissue underneath.

If overrunning is a regular problem for your dog but you still want to keep your pet trim and healthy throughout its life, consider taking it for a swim. Just like for humans, swimming is a low-impact sport that is great for burning fat and improving cardiovascular health.

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