How to exercise your active dog when you're sick

How To Exercise Your Dog When You’re Sick

Today, I’ll share a few tips to help you exercise your dog when you’re sick. On that note – I hope you’ll get better soon!

While I personally don’t get sick super often, I’ll come down with a cold every so often, and just don’t have it in me to properly exercise the pup(s) with a walk.

When I originally published this blog post back in 2017, I had just brought back a cold accompanied by a “lovely” cough from a trip to Southern California.

Ugh. And while I didn’t have the energy to go for a morning backpack walk with Missy, I managed to exercise her in a different way.

Because let’s face it – I would have had one whiny puppy on my hands if she hadn’t had her morning exercise.

So! This post is for all the sick doggie parents of active dogs.

Those who can’t take their pups for their daily exercise and who don’t have a partner, family member, neighbor or friend to do it for them.

How To Exercise Your Dog When You’re Sick

How To Exercise Your Active Dog When You're Sick

Disclaimer: This blog post was originally published in 2017 and has been updated for 2022. It contains affiliate links. I may earn compensation when you click on the links at no additional cost to you.

Hire A Dog Walker/Runner

This one’s a no brainer. A professional dog walker/runner will give your active dog the exercise they need while following your instructions.

A 30 minute backpack walk? Done.

A 60 min run? You got it. 

A 2 hour hike? No problem. 

Note that I emphasized the word professional. If you’re going to trust a stranger with your dog, ask for references and make sure they have pet sitting/dog walking liability insurance in place.

It’s totally fine to ask to see their certificate of insurance, by the way. I carry mine on me at all times and I’m not offended if a new client asks to see it. 

You may wonder how to go about finding a reliable professional dog walker? Fellow dog walker/blogger Lindsay from gives great advice on this topic in her blog post What To Consider Before Hiring A Pet Sitter.

Just like me, Lindsay is the owner-operator of her very own dog walking business in Southern California (the latter is UNLIKE me…I’m in NC).

Update 2022: Both Lindsay and myself are no longer in the dog walking/pet sitting business.

Lindsay is a full-time dog blogger now and so am I.

Try To Have A Dog Walker On Call Before You’re Sick

By the way, ideally you should think about finding a dog walker before you get sick. That way, all you have to do is text/email/call when you’re actually sick.

Because let’s face it – you’re probably not going to have the energy to interview a dog walker in that condition. 

You can search for dog walkers/pet sitters in your area by typing your zip code into Pet Sitter’s International Homepage.

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I can’t even remember how many times I received texts from regular dog walking clients letting me know they’d be home unexpectedly because they were sick…but to PLEASE still come by and exercise their pups because they just couldn’t.

Downside: You’ll obviously have to pay for this type of service.

Walking Bulldog Ada and Boxer mix Missy
Walking my pup Missy with a friend’s Bulldog, Ada

Tip: If your pup is used to going to doggie daycare, that would be an option too. Obviously you’ll have to get them there somehow, so if you’re not up for walking, you may not be up for driving, either.

If your daycare has a pick up and drop off service, it may well be worth paying for it if it means you’ll have the day to take care of yourself.

If that’s not an option, try this to exercise your dog when you’re sick:

Use Stairs/Tools Inside Your Home 

Here’s how I exercised Missy that morning when I felt like crap.

I grabbed a bag of our favorite single-ingredient, air-dried treats and walked upstairs into our bonus room.

My Dog Agility Tunnel

In there, I have a doggie tunnel set up that I use on a regular basis for exercise and nose work.

You can find those tunnels on Amazon for around $40. If you don’t have the space to leave it out permanently, it easily folds up.

Missy Sitting In Anticipation Next To Her Treats And dog Tunnel

Once upstairs, I pulled the tunnel close to the staircase, sat down at the very top of the stairs, and had Missy run up and down.

I get her to do that by breaking the treats into tiny pieces and throwing them down the stairs. She LOVES her treats and immediately goes after them.

Missy Ready For Stair Running Action

Every now & then, I’d also throw a treat inside the tunnel so she’d have to go after it, and over the tunnel so she’d have to jump over it. We did that for about 30 minutes, at which point she was panting. 

Missy Jumping Over Her Tunnel

My voice was kind of fading, so I made it a point not to speak. This does more than just going easy on your throat because it’s also a great bonding exercise between you and your pup.

Couch & Homemade Obstacles As Tunnel Alternatives

If you don’t have stairs inside your home, you could get your pup to jump up and down on couches/beds and throw a large handful of treats inside your living room (or whichever room, really).

Your yard works too.

Having to sniff out food in general is a great mental exercise for your pups and will burn energy. It taps into your dog’s natural foraging instincts.

You can also set up other obstacles like stacks of books that you connect with a broom or similar long item.

It’s just a matter of how much energy you have left to set stuff up if you’re not feeling well.

Using Mighty Paw's Dog Treat Pouch Inside The House
One of my homemade doggie obstacles

Use A Laser Pointer

Laser pointers are another great option to get your pooch to run around the house without you having to move around a whole lot. Heck, you could even do it from the comfort of your bed.

Dogs who like to play fetch will typically be into it. Just give it a try and see how your pup reacts to it.

Good to know: Some dogs with neurotic tendencies won’t do well with laser pointer games on a regular basis.

That said, I don’t see anything wrong with using this approach occasionally when you’re not feeling well.

Throw A Ball

Definitely a no brainer if your pup is ball crazy.

Get comfy on your bed, the couch, or sit on the floor wrapped up in a blanket and throw your pup’s ball. 

The chuck it ball is definitely a favorite of Buzz’s, Missy’s brother.

Entertain your dog inside with his favorite ball, for example a chuck it ball
Buzz with his favorite chuck-it ball

Let Your Dog Go For A Swim

If you’re lucky enough to live right on the water or to have a pool on your property AND your dog is the definition of aquapup, you could just let them go for a swim.

Missy & Buzz Swimming With K9 Friends
Missy swimming in a pool with doggie friends

Of course you’ll still have to supervise, but you could do that while sitting or lounging close by.

How to Entertain Dogs Who Don’t Like Toys: Dog Food Puzzles

Another great way of entertaining your pup is to offer them dog food puzzles, especially if they’re not crazy about playtime with toys.

The way they work is they’re hollow and you put tasty treats on the inside.

Of course you can also stuff them with (frozen) raw dog food if you’re a raw feeder like myself.

Some of them roll or bounce, which makes it a bit harder for your dog to get the goodies out, but that’s exactly what you want.

That’s because your dog burns mental energy while he’s figuring out how to get to the treats or food.

My personal favorites are KONG toys and the West Paw Zogoflex Qwizl toy.

Both are super bouncy!

The Qwizl is great for holding long, thin dog chews like bully sticks.

Missy approves of her raw dog food Kong puzzle toy. It's filled with raw dog food from Raw Paws Pet Food.
Missy with her Kong dog food puzzle. It’s filled with raw dog food from Raw Paws Pet Food.
Wally and his West Paw Zogoflex Qwizl dog toy. It holds a bully stick.
Wally and his West Paw Zogoflex Qwizl dog toy

Another good option is a snuffle mat.

The concept is similar, except that it’s not bouncy: You put it down somewhere and hide food or treats in there.

The one downside is that it’s not a great fit for raw or wet dog food – unless you wanted to immediately toss it into the washer after using it.

Probably not want you have in mind when you’re sick though!

So I’d only use snuffle mats for dogs who are kibble-fed or interested in single-ingredient, dry treats.

Wally with his snuffle mat
Wally with his snuffle mat that was passed down to him from Missy
The Wooly Snuffle Mat Also Works Great As A Place Mat For Missy's Bowl
Missy with her snuffle mat. It also works great as a stylish floor mat.

I have one more food dispensing dog toy up my sleeve: the Pet Zone IQ Treat ball.

The pet zone IQ treat ball fits a decent amount of air-dried treats. What I really like about that one is that you can adjust its level of difficulty with an interior disc.

The one downside is that it may be annoying to hear it roll across hardwood or tile floors!

That’s because it’s made of hard plastic, not rubber, so if your pup’s not using it on carpet, there’ll be some noise.

What About Heavy Duty Dog Chew Bones?

You may have head that letting your dog chew on bones is a great way to exercise your dog when you’re sick.

While that’s true, you won’t see me hand out heavy duty recreational dog chew bones.

That’s because I’ve had a really bad experience with one of those smoked ginormous beef dog bones you can buy at pretty much every grocery store.

Back in early 2015, just a few months before my raw feeding days, Buzz broke one of his back molars on one of those beef bones.

It was painful for him and expensive for me.

Ever since, I’ve switched my pups from recreational bones to raw meaty bones.

They’re such a wonderful energy outlet for dogs because they exercise their entire bodies. As Dr. Ian Billinghurst puts it on page 124 of his book Give Your Dog a Bone:

Meat left on the bone means your dog will have to rip, tear and chew at it. This is the way nature intended your dog to eat. It is part of keeping your dog healthy. […] It helps a growing dog to develop properly, and it helps keep an adult dog fit. 
Think of a dog with both feet planted firmly on a lump of meat still attached to its bone. Head down, taking hold of that meat, ripping and tearing away. What is that dog exercising? 
That dog is exercising its whole body. Its jaws, its neck, its shoulders, and its front legs. It is also exercising the back and hind legs which are braced to resist all this activity up front. 

Examples of raw meaty bones you can feed are chicken leg quarters, duck frames or rabbit heads.

For a complete list of raw meaty bones that are safe to feed, click here.

When these types of bones are raw, they’re soft and pliable.

When they’re smoked or cooked instead, they become hard, brittle and dangerous.

How To Exercise Your Dog When You’re Sick: Bottom Line

Finding yourself depleted of energy does not necessarily mean that your dog’s energy level will go through the roof.

They can still get a decent amount of exercise by applying some of the life hacks I mentioned in this blog post.

See about hiring a professional dog walker, throwing the ball, letting them run stairs, offering raw meaty bones or playing some nose games.  

***Feel better soon!***

How do you exercise your dog when you’re sick? As always, we’d love to hear from you in our comment section!

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Barbara launched her blog K9sOverCoffee in 2014 and has been feeding her dogs raw dog food since 2015. As a former professional dog walker, she’s passionate about balancing species-appropriate exercise with healthy dog nutrition. Barbara is raw dog food nutrition certified from “Dogs Naturally Magazine” and the author of several e-books about minimally processed, balanced raw dog food.







12 responses to “How To Exercise Your Dog When You’re Sick”

  1. Crystal Avatar

    Most of those are great ideas. But I really can’t agree with the laser pointer one. Some dogs can handle the laser pointer, but it can cause other dogs to get neurotic about chasing light or shadows. I know at least one dog who had to be medicated because it was literally starving itself to death because it would chase light rather than eat- they had to put it on medication and close it in a pitch dark room to eat. And I know multiple other dogs who SHOULD be medicated for the same issue. The one thing all of those dogs have in common is that the owners thought it was cute to play with them with a laser pointer.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Thanks for stopping by, Crystal! I agree that dogs with neurotic tendencies should not “play” with laser pointers. However, this post is geared towards active dogs who are exercised on a regular, daily basis. Those dogs are mentally & physically stable and won’t go crazy over a laser pointer. They can actually get a decent amount of exercise out of it. My dogs are living proof 🙂

      1. Lindsay Stordahl Avatar
        Lindsay Stordahl

        I had similar thoughts on the lazer pointer, but that’s just because both my dogs are those “obsessive” types!

        1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

          Oh wow, really? I suppose it’s up to us as pet parents to know our respective dogs and make the right choices for them. So if we know that a dog will obsess over a laser pointer, don’t pull it out 🙂

  2. Anna Avatar

    Hi Barbara! Thanks for super timely article. I just had my knee procedure and not able to walk.
    Firstly, I don’t trust local people to walk my dog. There is no-one around here with your level of professionalism.
    I ordered small treats from “Real Pet Food” and use the stairs. Also, my hubby play ball with in the backyard. I can’t really go outside since it is all pure ice. Can you post a link to the tube?

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Hi Anna, I’m sorry you’re stuck inside – but glad you got the knee procedure done. You’ll be as good as new soon!! If I lived in your area, I’d exercise Rocky for you 🙂 But ball time with his Daddy in the backyard sounds good too. Yay for the treats from Real Pet Food! The pups love, love, love them. They each have their own monthly subscription box.

      Here’s the link to the tunnel/tube:

      I bought it for the pups when they were about 9 months old. It’s still in pretty decent shape although I’ve also used it outside a few times.

      1. Anna Avatar

        Thank you, Barbara! I love our home. And it is rare for me to spend so much time in-doors. So, good opportunity to catch up on work, blogging and writing.

        1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

          My pleasure 🙂 I love your positive attitude!

  3. Beth Avatar

    Great advice–we do a lot of these things when it’s too cold to spend much time outside, too. Usually when I’m sick, I just have to suck it up and walk the dogs anyway because the little one doesn’t get worn out ever–I’ve figured out exactly what time I need to take my cold meds to be able to breathe long enough to get in at least a mile before I am ready to curl back up in bed 🙂

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Thanks, Beth! Kudos to your hardcore attitude!! I’m familiar with having to suck it up, too and usually do a decent job with it…There was just no way I could go for a walk that one morning. I barely had enough energy to drag myself up the stairs into the bonus room and take those pictures. Thankfully I only had 3 dog client visits that day who I only had to let out into their respective yards without an actual walk.

  4. Jan K, Wag N Woof Pets Avatar
    Jan K, Wag N Woof Pets

    What great ideas! I wish we had the room to keep our tunnel set up all the time. When I was sick recently, I didn’t even think about getting ours out and I should have. Luckily Cricket, being older, is pretty good about just having a relaxing day, and Luke loves to snuggle. But eventually he does get bored with that! I usually drag myself outside to toss the ball anyway; but the last bug I had came with a wicked lower backache, so that was really tough!

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      That does sound tough. It’s a good thing that sick days aren’t the norm, right?! I love that you have a tunnel for your pups, too. It’s such a fun tool. I wonder if the pups are going to slow down once they get up in age. I mean they probably will, it just seems like such a weird scenario right now. Their 6th birthday is coming up in a few months though, so they’re slowly approaching that senior age box for their size.

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