Following exercise onset, CO2 output (VCO2) and O2 uptake (VO2) increase exponentially, but with appreciably different time constants. To determine the sensitivity of the time courses of these variables to altered ventilatory kinetics, rhythmic exercise was induced abruptly in anesthetized dogs by bilateral stimulation of the peripheral ends of the cut sciatic and femoral nerves. This increased the metabolic rate by 83 +/- 25 (SD) %. The dogs were ventilated with a constant-volume pump, the frequency of which was changed exponentially from the start of the exercise up to the ventilation that returned arterial CO2 and O2 pressure (PCO2 and PO2) in the steady state to resting levels. The time constant (tau) of the increase in ventilation (VE) was varied among trials. VCO2, VO2, end-tidal PCO2 and PO2, and arterial PCO2 were measured breath by breath. tauVO2 was constant at approximately 18 s regardless of alterations in tauVE. In contrast, tauVCO2 was strongly dependent on tauVE, apparently due to the larger body stores for CO2; the transitions were isocapnic when tau VE was approximately 40 s. We conclude that ventilatory dynamics can markedly influence the dynamics of CO2 exchange during exercise, but has no appreciable effect on O2 uptake dynamics.