Fetch: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Updated on: October 20, 2021
Fetch: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

As a pet owner you have probably heard, “A tired dog, is a good dog.” Well, there are many different ways to achieve the end goal of a tired dog. 

The most common way the average pet owner has found is to play fetch, because it’s a great, easy way to tire out our canine companions. Well, I hate to break the hearts of many - fetch is not the best for your dog. 

There is scientific evidence that running after a ball, stick or jumping in the air repeatedly can cause joint problems or other injuries. The physical injuries that can form from running full blast and stopping suddenly are: neck, shoulder, spinal joint problems. Health and behavior problems could also arise - such as over arousal and obsessive compulsive behaviors. 

The Physical Problems

A study was released in 2017, from the scientists at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, on the effects of dogs carrying objects in their mouths. The short story from the study shows that dogs carry 60% of their weight on the front end of their body. If we look at this in terms of a golden retriever holding a tennis ball in their mouth, there isn’t much weight there, but that same ball in a smaller breed such as a Cattle Dog, they would be shifting 66-70% on their front end. This weight shift (even the smallest amount) can start to result in strains and/or muscular injuries. 

Talking about strains or muscular injuries, wrists (carpal hyperextension), the neck/spine and arthritis are the most common that are seen from over the years of ball throwing. The good news is that if caught early, many of these injuries can be helped and not cause permanent damage. If you suspect any lameness from your pet, stop playing immediately and seek help from your vet. 

Health and Behavioral Problems

Since fetch is usually used as a quick way to tire out dogs (especially during the warmer months) it is common that the dogs are overheating and coming down with heatstroke. As humans standing in a shady spot, we don’t have the chance to experience just how hot it is while running to grab a ball. 

Heatstroke is a silent killer because your dog may not show any symptoms until it is too late. If you’re going to take your dog out in the heat, make sure they are allowed to cool down in between spurts of energy. If you notice any of the symptoms below - stop right away, and get your dog cooled down or to the vet. 

Heatstroke Symptoms:

  • Heavy panting (tongue is curling)
  • Drooling
  • Dark red tongue/gums
  • Seizures
  • Glazed eyes
  • Vomiting 
  • Loose bloody stools
  • Excessive thirst

Now that the scary stuff is done with, we can talk about what if your dog LOVES fetch too much. The arousal that occurs when your pet chases and catches an object engages their innate prey drive. This then releases cortisol. Cortisol is the chemical in the body that triggers our ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. Too much cortisol can cause a negative behavioral change such as anxiety. Instead of having an exercise that is meant to tire out your pet, it will actually push them to be more stressed/obsessive and harder to calm down and settle. If you have a high drive dog, that shows obvious signs of obsessive behaviors, it is strongly recommended to find alternative exercises, such as mental games. 

Our dogs bring so much joy into our lives, and as Poli Pet policy, we want them to live as long as possible. And like with most things moderation is best. If you’re going to play fetch with your pup, keep it to low reps and allow rest in between. We suggest giving Boost as a muscle recovery to keep those joints and muscles in tip top shape.