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Exercise testing is not commonly used in canine medicine because of several limitations. The aim of this study was to investigate the suitability of a treadmill test to measure the exercise capacity of untrained canine cardiac patients and to measure some biological parameters that might reflect the tolerance of dogs with heart failure to submaximal exercise. The exercise capacity of seven dogs with naturally occurring heart failure was evaluated before the institution of cardiac medication and 7 days after the beginning of the study. An additional re-examination was requested after 28 days. The exercise test was performed on a motorized treadmill at three different speeds (0.5 m/s, 1.0 m/s and 1.5 m/s). The following parameters were measured at the end of each stage and after 20 min recovery: heart rate, rectal temperature, glucose, lactate, aspartate aminotransferase, creatine kinase, P vO 2, CO 2, pH, haematocrit, bicarbonate, sodium, potassium and chloride. Serum cardiac troponin-I was also measured at the beginning of the test and at the end of the recovery period. Owners' perception reflected the ability of their dogs to exercise on the treadmill. Lactate level increased noticeably with the intensity of the exercise test, and its variation coincided with different exercise tolerance observed by the owners. Heart rate seemed to follow a similar trend in the few dogs presented in sinus rhythm. None of the remaining parameters appeared to be sensitive indicators of activity level in the dogs used in this study. The treadmill exercise test in dogs with acquired heart failure is feasible and might provide useful information for assessing individual response to cardiac medication. Lactate and heart rate seemed to reflect individual levels of exercise tolerance, although further studies are necessary to confirm the reliability and repeatability of this test.