May 09, 2018

There are so many opinions out there about dog joints and jumping. Is it harmless and healthy? Does it stress the joints? Can all breeds jump and play actively? It’s time to take a closer look…

There’s so much information out there about how to help our dogs feel happy and healthy, and it can get really confusing. We’ve been speaking to the Lintbells veterinary advice team about dog joints and jumping, and are here to sort the fact from fiction!

Is jumping bad for your dog’s joints?

There’s no simple answer to this one, as it depends on circumstances. It’s all about what’s happening in your dog’s body as she or he jumps. Of course dogs and their wild cousins wolves leap and jump over and on and off obstacles. But for our domesticated dogs, it’s a question of repetition, surfaces, load, strain, and scale...

Load, strain and repetition

Let’s walk through the act of jumping from a dog’s perspective – understanding what’s happening physically helps us understand how different kinds of jumping affect our dogs’ joints in different ways.

How does a dog jump up?

When your pooch prepares to take off, he or she shifts weight back into the large muscles of the back legs and onto the back leg joints. The activated back end of your dog propels them up and forward like a coiled spring being released.

This action takes a full range of motion in the dog’s back leg joints: stifle, hip and tarsal (hock), and of course, activation in all the supporting muscles. And when they come to land, the front legs come into play, flexing and extending to brake and steady the dog.

Though these actions are perfectly natural, as you can imagine, it takes more out of your dog’s joints than walking or running around on the flat. This is called an ‘increased load’.

How does a dog jump down?

The act of jumping down takes less work… it’s when your dog puts the brakes on that he or she might risk a twist or strain.

To get 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. The front legs and shoulders suddenly take much more weight and strain than if walking or running on the flat, especially if your pooch is carrying an extra pound or two. Again, this is ‘increased load’ at work.

What about different surfaces?

This is a big factor. Jumping from hard to soft – or soft to slippery – adds another layer of complexity. Your dog has to counter the squish of the sofa and keep her balance, or land on slippery lino and keep on his feet. This can cause what’s called ‘eccentric contractions’, leading to twists, strains and sprains.

Imagine jumping from high wall onto a big squishy mattress and trying to stay on your feet when you land… you get the picture. Clutter, slippery floors and rugs cause problems too. If your dog has to twist or correct on landing, it’s all more work on the muscles and joints.

And is the dog’s breed and size a factor?

Of course. If your dog is a tiny toy, they may have to jump twice – or even thrice – their height or more 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 extra weight, their joints are too, which can make an action that already carries an inherent risk more problematic.

Jumping and dog joints: fact or fiction?

Dogs shouldn’t go up and down stairs

Not true. Most adult dogs can manage stairs well as long as the stairs are carpeted and the dog has no pre-existing conditions. Stairs or steps do require greater joint range of motion in both the front and back legs than walking on the flat, but the good news is that the shift in the dog’s centre of gravity is reduced with the lowered height the dog needs to negotiate. However, stairs can be a challenge for the smallest breeds and dogs whose joints need extra care. Ramps, or being carried or supported with a sling is a good idea in these cases – talk to your vet for advice.

Jumping in and out of the car is bad for my dog

This one depends on your car and your dog! A high SUV, 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 ramp. If your dogs gets used to ramps when they’re young and agile, life will be easier for both of you if then struggle with jumping as they age.

Dogs shouldn't jump on and off couches

True. Jumping on and off the couch isn’t great for dogs because of the combination of different surfaces. Going for hard to soft (and vice versa) increases the likelihood of twists and injuries, as does repeating a ‘high load’ activity over and over.

A small, overweight dog jumping on and off a high, soft leather couch from a laminate floor with lots of obstacles and rugs to negotiate on landing is potentially more problematic than a medium-sized mixed breed of healthy weight jumping onto a low, hard fabric couch from a carpeted floor. However, even the latter is more stressful than running and playing on on a level floor.

Jumping on the bed won’t harm my dog

Not true. It depends on your bed, your bedroom and your dog. It’s safer to lift your dog up for a bedtime snuggle or use a ramp – 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 mix of hard and soft surfaces that causes a lot of strain in your dog’s musculature and joints.

Puppies shouldn’t be allowed to jump on furniture

True. Growing joints are particularly vulnerable – and the behaviour you allow in puppyhood sets the model for adult life. We’d recommend training your pup to ‘wait’ and lifting them onto furniture if you want them to come up for a cuddle. It’s more polite when you visit friends and family, too!

Dogs shouldn’t really be allowed to bounce and play on beds and trampolines

Unfortunately, this is true. Many dogs love the bouncy feel of the bed or couch, and will sometimes even use it as ‘spingboard’ if they’re having zoomies. We know many 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. Sorry Buster, no trampoline for you in 2018!

Jumping sports like agility are bad for dogs

Not true. Though jumping increases the load on the joint, if the surfaces and heights are within a safe range, your dog’s fitness and muscle tone is good, and you don’t overdo it, jumping is relatively safe. Like in any sport, there is a risk of injury, but if you’re careful and responsible, you can minimise the risks so they are outweighed by benefits like increased fitness and a better bond between you.

Jumping and dog joints – how can you better support your best friend?

Give them a lift

Love a snuggle with your furry bestie? If you like to share your bed or your couch (yep, you’ve got us there – we do too), don’t worry… cuddles needn’t be off the menu. Just put the brakes on uneven jumps! Train them to ‘wait’ by the sofa or bed, then lift them up, and down again. The best way to lift dogs depends on how big your pooch is:

  • Small-medium – slide your dominant arm under the chest between the front legs, and tuck the back end between your arm and body as you lift.
  • Medium-large – put your arm behind his back legs, your other arm around the chest in front of the back legs, then hold your pooch against your chest as you lift. With larger dogs, remember your manual handling training, keep your back straight and lift through your legs so you don't stress your joints!
  • Very large dogs – get a ramp or step, or use a board or bed (and a helper).
Never lift a dog by their legs or using their ‘armpits’ like you might a child, and always give your dog a verbal cue so you don't surprise them. Dr Becker explains it well in this article, and there’s a video, too.

    Oldie, heavy pup or pre-existing condition?

    Treat them to a step or ramp. There are lots of different dog ramps available, and most pooches take to them very quickly. Get inspired with some of these DIY ideas, or head to a large pet store to try out different kinds with your dog.
    Training your dog to use the ramp is easy – be patient and lure with treats. If you have a very nervous dog, start by just placing treats on the ramp, and very gradually build up a treat trail… think of Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs! A little peanut butter can tempt them to step up and stand on the ramp for the first time, and once they get used to the sensation, they’ll soon take to it like a pro.

    Committed couch jumper?

    If you’ve got a pooch who loves to jump – and is on the couch as soon as your back is turned! – you can make the environment safer by:

    • Adding a step or ramp.
    • Making sure your couch is on a non-slip surface – add a rug (with sticky backing) if your floor is slippery laminate or lino.
    • Clearing their path for a smooth landing – reconfigure your layout to allow plenty of clear space. 

    Better yet, get in the habit of shutting the door and not leaving your dog unsupervised with the couch...

    Support their joints

    Many dogs will benefit from a joint supplement to support healthy joint function and promote mobility. If your dog is stiff or getting older, YuMOVE Dog soothes stiffness, supports long-term joint health and promotes mobility. If your dog is young and active, YuMOVE Active Dog is a good way to supports active and growing joints – perfect for growing puppies and canine athletes.

    However, a good joint supplement isn’t a ‘carte blanche’ for couch-jumping and bed bouncing… we recommend that you discourage this behaviour if you can. Here at Lintbells, when it comes to protecting dog joints we’re very much of the ‘better safe than sorry’ camp!

    Find out more about caring for your dog’s joints in our article: everything you need to know about joint care. From playful pups to wiser and wonderful oldies, there’s lots of useful tips and advice to keep your pooch happy and healthy.  

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