A tan and white dog playing with a ball in the backyard.

Debarking Pet Myths: Playtime in the Backyard Is Enough Exercise

Welcome to another installment of “Debarking Pet Myths,” our monthly series that addresses common myths, misconceptions and old wives’ tales about dogs, cats and their nutrition.

A fenced backyard is a great asset for a household with pets. It’s generally a safe environment, there are usually no other animals to worry about (except the local wildlife), and it’s convenient — open the door and you’re there. Pets can spend many fun-filled hours in the backyard, but since pets need daily exercise of at least 30 to 90 minutes (or more) depending on their age, breed and lifestyle, is free playtime in a fenced backyard enough exercise? Or do pets need more structured exercise in addition to yard time?

Nah, I Just Wanna Sleep

Like some people, some pets are not exercise fanatics and require motivation to get their legs moving and heart pumping. For those pets that are a little motivation-challenged, an unsupervised afternoon in the backyard is likely to mean finding a comfy, sunny spot to lie in and snooze for a while. Not the outcome you wanted, if exercise was the goal. For cats, an outdoor cat house can provide them a safe place to play (or sleep) outside, but they may not get the exercise they need in it.

Backyard Shenanigans

The other personality that may have some pets looking for an exercise alternative in the backyard is the mischief makers. You may say “go exercise,” but they have other thoughts and activities on their mind.

There are some pets (they know who they are) who will find the new plant you just planted and dig it up. Then there are the wildlife chasers who will spend the afternoon hunting, playing with or chasing birds and wildlife, which may provide some exercise but is never a good scenario for your pet or the wildlife. There are also the barkers and the howlers — the dogs who like to tell the whole neighborhood that they’re outside and loving it (or hating it if there’s a tormenting squirrel on the fence).

How Much Daily Exercise Do Pets Actually Need?

While backyard playtime may provide some exercise, it probably isn’t enough. Below is a list of the recommended daily exercise needs of cats and dogs depending on their age, breed and lifestyle. Nearly all pets benefit from two daily sessions, splitting the total daily time needed into a morning and evening session.

An interior infographic detailing how much daily exercise pets need.

If you’re not sure if your pet is getting enough exercise, this post has signs to look out for and ideas to get them moving.

The Backyard Can Be a Place for Exercise

The backyard can provide adequate exercise if you set up supervised activities. A game of fetch is always fun, or you could set up your own agility course. If you’re comfortable with taking your cat outside, you could play with toys outside, as long as they won’t run away from you.

Fun Ideas for Exercising Your Pet

So, if an afternoon in the backyard isn’t enough, how can you make sure your pet is getting the exercise they need? Walking is always a great option since it provides mental and social stimulation and strengthens the bond between you and your dog. Some cats can be trained to walk on a leash, so this is a good option for them as well. If your cat isn’t a fan of the leash, you could try playing chase with a pen light or laser pointer or get them climbing on a cat tree-furniture obstacle course. Other ideas include “doga” (yoga with your dog), dancing, swimming and even a dog treadmill.

Playtime in the backyard by itself may not provide enough exercise for your pet, but there’s plenty of fun ways to get your pets the exercise they need to stay healthy. Remember to consult your veterinarian before beginning or changing your pet’s exercise regimen.

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RELATED POST: Walk Off Boredom While You Walk Off Your Dog’s Weight


The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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