How to Build Muscle Mass and Endurance in Dogs

| Modified on Jun 30, 2022

Just like people, dogs are susceptible to a variety of injuries and ailments, but with appropriate care, many of those health concerns can be avoided. Having adequate muscle tissue and strength is one of the best ways that a dog can avoid muscle injury, such as muscle tear or lameness. According to petMD, adequate muscle structure can even offset degeneration and atrophy. However, building muscle won't happen overnight. The keys to building muscles are a balanced diet, active lifestyle, and appropriate nutritional supplements.

3 Key Steps for Building Muscle in Dogs

An animal’s wellness is determined in much the same way as yours. Your pet needs a well-balanced diet, an active regimen and adequate nutritional supplements to build and maintain a strong, lean body. To build muscle in your dog, you need to follow these 3 key steps.

1. Establish a balanced diet.

According to the ASPCA, pet food and intake is one of the key factors that contributes to your pet’s body build as well as overall demeanor and wellness. When trying to build muscle in your dog, you’ll want to look for food that is high in real protein as well as fruits and vegetables. Avoid a primarily grain based food as these types of foods can make your dog sluggish and slow.

2. Conditioning and Building Muscle

Build both muscles and endurance with the proper conditioning exercises.  Continue whatever daily exercise you’ve already been doing with your dog, such as a regular walk each day. You could also start agility exercises and a daily swim or jogging program (if you haven’t already established one).  You and your dog will both benefit!

  • Include stretching and a cool-down at the end of training sessions.  Start by issuing a "Stretch" command when the dog stretches on its own.  A stretch can also consist of having the dog stand on its rear legs against your chest and reach upward with the front paws.
  • Walks are excellent, but don't allow the dog to stop every two minutes.  Try walking over different types of terrain. Running and jogging are also beneficial.
  • Swimming is one of the best exercises for a dog (or a person).  Cardiovascular endurance can be increased without straining joints.
  • Agility training helps any dog, whether they compete or not.  Not only is it great exercise, but it improves coordination and suppleness and makes a dog more self-confident.  Some exercises might involve walking on a narrow board, going up and down an A-frame, crawling in a tunnel and jumping over obstacles.  Dogs love to do this!
  • Dogs are strong animals that need to work their muscles. Try adding some weight pulling exercise to your dog’s regimen such as tug-of-war or fetching uphill.

3. Consider nutritional supplements.

It is likely your dog isn’t getting all of the nutrients it needs in its food, even if you are using a well-balanced food approach. Just like you do, your dog needs a balanced nutritional plan of water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Consider adding additional amino acids as well as omega-3 fats to your canine’s regimen if your goal is building muscle. Your can typically get these nutritional supplements from your veterinarian.

Help your dog lead a longer, healthier life by following these 3 fundamental practices to build muscle in your dog and maintain its strong, lean physique. Continue reading below to see what our readers have suggested and let us know what you've tried!

Other Pages of Interest:

Best Dog Food & Cat Food Options for Your Healthy Pet!

Muscle Strain Remedies

Muscle Mass Remedies

Posted by Elya (Boston, MA, US) on 08/21/2014

Hi, I used to be on the site but haven't been in a long time and don't know how to navigate it. I can't figure out how to search it if the info I want doesn't show up after I put it into the search box. I need info on how to increase my 3-legged dog's muscle mass (particularly in the 1 existing hind leg.). Thanks so much for this site. I've recommended it to friends over the years. It's really helped me.

EC: Hi Elya, we don't have any info on this topic and have just created a new page for you.

Replied by Jeremy
(Turlock, Ca)

I have a 12yo choc lab that's always been very active but recently been fighting a few painful issues...spondelosis and arthritis in her shoulders causing her to drag her from paws. My gf works for a vet that uses a "water treadmill" to build mass in dogs without putting strain on their joints. My dogs about to start training in it to build up mass she's lost due to her injuries. Look into that, it can really improve dogs... good luck

Replied by Sam
(Adelaide, Australia)
18 posts

As anyone has success in building muscle mass in an elderly dog? My dog is really frail and back legs are collapsing as there is no muscle tone.

It all went downhill almost a year ago when he decided to eat a whole heap of gravel and was rushed to the emergency vet. After numerous enemas, tube down throat and multiply xrays he lived but it ruined him inside and out. He went from jumping in my car and going on long walks to can not do either. Legs collapse out from him. Sad to watch.

I have been getting him Bowen therapy and was going to do acupuncture, however that is way too expensive for me.

Any help, please


Hi Sam,

Sorry to hear about your dog.

Get a Help 'Em Up Harness.

I have a similar situation with my 16+ year old 55 pound dog and this harness is incredibly helpful and lets me take him out to do his business and exercise him without straining my back. It takes a bit of practice getting it on at first.

I have tried 5 other cheaper harnesses from Amazon in the past year and this one is definitely the best and worth the $.

I am using their new walking loop handles with the harness.

Best of luck!