Many people have an opinion on whether or not jumping is bad for dogs' joints. Is it healthy and/or harmless? Can it stress the joints? Should all breeds jump and play actively? Let's take a look in more detail.
All this noise on how to help keep our dogs feeling healthy and happy can make it difficult to tell fact from fiction, making things all a little bit confusing. That’s where we come in! Our technical experts have broken down a guide to joints and jumping, to help you make the best choices for your paw-legged pooch
The basics - How jumping affects your dog’s joints
Historically, dogs and their wild cousins have had to leap and jump to survive. However, with our domesticated dogs it's a question of surfaces, load, scale, strain, repetition and how these effect the body
It’s useful to think about the act of jumping from a dog’s perspective – understanding what’s happening physically helps us understand how and why different kinds of jumping affect our dog’s joints.
What happens when a dog jumps up?
When your pooch prepares to take off, they shift their weight back into the large muscles of the back legs and onto the back-leg joints. The activated back end pushes your dog up and forward like a coiled spring which has been released.
This action requires a full range of motion in the back leg joints including the stifle and the hip and tarsal (hock), and of course, activation in all the supporting muscles. When they land, their front legs are mobilised, flexing and extending to brake and steady the dog.
Though these movements are perfectly normal and natural, as you can imagine, it takes more out of your dog’s joints than walking or running around on flat ground. Vets refer to the additional stress on the body as ‘increased load’.
What happens when a dog jumps down?
The act of jumping down involves less muscular work – it’s when your dog puts the brakes on during this process that they might risk a twist or strain.
When getting down off a couch or bed, your dog uses their body weight for downward momentum. Once they land, they’ll then ‘brake’ through the front section of their body. Their front legs and shoulders abruptly take much more weight and strain than if walking or running on flat ground, especially if your pooch is carrying an extra pound or two. Again this is ‘increased load’ at work.
How different surfaces affect your dog?
This is a BIG factor. Jumping from hard to soft – or soft to slippery – adds another layer of complexity. Your dog has to counter slippery surfaces with their own muscles, or may risk toppling over on impact. This can cause what’s called ‘eccentric contractions’, leading to twists, strains and sprains.
Just imagine jumping from a high wall onto a soft mattress and trying to stay on your feet when you land. Clutter, slippery floors, and rugs can also cause problems. Twisting or straining on landing to avoid hazards will mean more work for the muscles and joints.
Is your dog’s breed and size a factor?
Yes. If your dog is a toy or miniature, they may have to jump twice or three times their height to join you for a snuggle. Some breeds and mixes are more prone to accidents and incidents, and obesity plays a part too. Unfortunately, if your dog is carrying a bit too much weight, their joints take the stress, which can make a risky action even more problematic.
Jumping and dog joints: fact or fiction?
We’ve went through, with the Lintbells veterinary team, some of the most common statements about jumping and dog joints and asked them to set the facts straight!
“Dogs shouldn’t go up and down stairs”
Fiction. Most healthy adult dogs manage carpeted stairs well. Stairs or steps do require greater range of motion in the front and back leg joints compared to walking on flat ground. However, the shift in the dog’s centre of gravity is counteracted by the lowered height the dog needs to negotiate. Stairs can be a challenge for the smallest breeds and dogs who are prone to joint stiffness. Ramps, or being carried or supported with a sling is a good idea in these cases – always talk to your vet for advice.
“Jumping in and out of the car is bad for my dog”
Neither fact or fiction - it depends on your car and your dog! A high 4x4, a slippery boot blanket and a small or older dog is a very different scenario to a low estate car with a rubber mat in the boot. The best solution is to use a portable pet ramp. It's a good idea to get your pooch used to ramps when they’re young and agile, life will be easier for both of you if jumping becomes a struggle as they age.
“Dogs shouldn't jump on and off couches”
Fact. Jumping on and off the couch isn’t ideal for dogs because of the combination of different surfaces. Going from hard to soft (and vice versa) increases the likelihood of twists and injuries, as does repeating a ‘high load’ activity over and over.
“Jumping on the bed won’t harm my dog”
Fiction. Although, of course it depends. It’s much safer to pick your dog up for a bedtime snuggle – or at least lift them back down from the bed, especially if your bed is high. Jumping on and off the bed is a ‘high-load activity, with a mixture of hard and soft surfaces which causes a lot of strain in your dog’s musculature and joints.
Fact. Growing joints are particularly vulnerable – and the behaviour you allow in puppyhood sets the model for adult life. We’d suggest training your pup to ‘wait’ and lifting them onto furniture if you want them to come up for a cuddle (which we know can be challenging. When your friends and family visit it be considered by some of these guests too!
“Dogs shouldn’t be allowed to bounce and play on beds and trampolines”
Fact. Many dogs love the bouncy feel of the bed or couch and will sometimes even use it as a ‘springboard’ if they’re having zoomies. We all know a pooch who loves to play on a trampoline given half a chance. However, bouncing on an uneven surface or – worse – from soft and springy to hard ground can increase the chance of injury.
"Jumping sports like agility are bad for dogs”
Fiction. Although jumping increases the load on the joint, if the surfaces and heights are within a safe range, your dog is healthy, and you don’t overdo it, jumping is relatively safe. There is a risk of injury when partaking in any sport, but if you’re careful and responsible, you can minimise the risk so they are outweighed by benefits like increased fitness and a better bond between you.