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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Should My Dog with Cancer Still Exercise?

Updated: December 29th, 2020


Can my dog with cancer exercise? Yes — in fact, it’s really important!

Most dogs, before they were diagnosed with cancer, are used to going for walks each day. Once the cancer was diagnosed, you may have been too worried, or too stressed, to take your dog for walks around the block or play fetch outside. A cancer diagnosis is scary, and we want to do what’s best for our dogs. You may be wondering can your dog with cancer exercise. Or, if exercise would do more harm than good. Luckily, Dr. Dressler addressed this concern in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.

The short answer to “should my dog with cancer still exercise” is… yes. According to Dr. Dressler in chapter 15, physical movement may not only burn calories but might also burn off negative emotions.

There is SO MUCH great advice in this book — stuff you can do RIGHT AWAY to help your dog with cancer.

You may be noticing your dog’s muscle mass is decreasing. She might be looking more and more fragile each day that passes. Daily movement can help re-build our dog’s muscles to help her live a life that’s as normal as possible.

Physical movement also helps boost the immune system. So your dog is better able to fight cancer. Exercise also helps your dog sleep better by increasing melatonin production.

Plus, a little sunshine is generally a good thing. Being out in the fresh air can help your dog keep his head held high and make him feel better overall.

What if My Dog Can’t Move Around Anymore?

There are a few ways you can help your dog with decreased mobility:

  • Assisted movement: Help your dog move by using a towel under his belly. Or, you can buy a canine mobility aide. The mobility aide helps you lift your dog- especially if your dog is a larger breed like a Lab or a Rottweiler.
  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapy helps your dog by relaxing his body- so he’s not as stiff. Physical therapy also increases blood flow and allows your dog to extend her joints.
  • Grooming: You’d be surprised at how much a gentle brushing can help. Make sure you use a soft-bristled brush if you use one. If your dog doesn’t like brushes, gently run your fingers through his fur.
  • Warmth: Low heat can help stimulate blood flow and relieve some stiffness, too. You can soak a washcloth in warm water (not hot), or you can use water bottles with warm water. A heating blanket is usually what comes to mind but Dr. Dressler doesn’t recommend them. They can get way too hot for our dog, and do more harm than good.
  • Fresh Air and Sunshine: Do you go outside every now and then when you aren’t feeling well? The fresh breeze running through your hair with the sunlight shining down can work wonders for us. Same with our dogs.

Playdates are Fun for Dogs with Cancer, Too

Dogs can get lonely, even in your company, if they’re the only dog in the house. This is where playdates come in.

Dogs are social animals… pack animals. Most dogs have a natural instinct to meet other dogs. Keep in mind, just like us, dogs have their own individual likes and dislikes. If your first play date doesn’t go as planned, it could be your dog isn’t a ‘match’ for the other or vise versa.

Or, your dog could be one of the few who prefers human company. If that’s the case, invite a friend over he knows and trusts to play.

Dr. Dressler recommends playdates so highly, he says he’d even call them a ‘cancer treatment.’

Manageable Challenges for Dogs with Cancer

Dr. Dressler recommends giving your dog manageable challenges. This could be any change in her regular routine.

Take a walk to a new area, teach your dog how to roll over, or how to shake her paw. Each time your dog masters a manageable challenge, give lots of praise. Overcoming even the ‘smallest’ manageable challenge can mean the world to your dog.

The Bottom Line on Exercise

The bottom line… encourage your dog to keep moving. The movement could be as simple as a walk next to the house… or a short hike if your dog is still up to it. The fresh air, the sunshine, and the movement are all generally good for your dog with cancer. And, if she enjoys playdates, that’s an added bonus.


Leave a Comment

  1. Judy Betzer on August 14, 2023 at 9:59 am

    Fred has cancer and I have let him lay around. Two days ago I said phooey. Now I have taken him with me in the car, had him sit on the deck while I read, and other adventures that he used to like over the years.
    Of course he still has cancer, but he longer just lays around sleeping and wondering what new kind of adventure I have in mind for him.

  2. Sarah Gardner on March 10, 2022 at 10:52 pm

    My 7 yr old dog has Lymphoma also a tumor in her stomach. We are 5 weeks into a 16 week course of treatment. She is still enjoying her 2 walks a day. However on day 2 after chemotherapy she’s sick and tired so we just do what she wants, usually just a short walk on our land as we have plenty of space in the countryside in Spain. Really trying to stay positive but it’s hard!

  3. Barbara Duke on August 27, 2019 at 3:26 am

    The article said Bladder and Prostate Cancer. But it had very little to no info on bladder cancer. I was more about male dogs and castration. What about more on Bladder Cancer in female dogs?

  4. daders on April 10, 2018 at 2:24 am

    I would imagine swimming would be especially beneficial. So many positives…buoyancy relieves stress on any part of an aching body, resistance provides faster results for strengthening, and particularly for large breed owners, if they are struggling, it would be easier for an owner to support the weight of their dog (provided they’re willing to get a little wet themselves).

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