Regular exercise is a must for your furry companion to help them stay happy and healthy. Lack of exercise is directly linked to obesity, behavioural issues, and digestive problems. The benefits of an active lifestyle can lead to a happy pet while also helping to reduce or eliminate common behavioural and health problems.
A study done on weight gain in cats showed some very interesting facts. Even small amounts of weight gain were shown to have significant health risks. It is estimated that a cat that is 4 pounds overweight is equal to a human gaining approximately 50 pounds! When cats are obese they are more than 2 times more likely to develop non-allergic skin conditions, 4 times more likely to develop diabetes, and 5 times more likely to develop lameness requiring veterinary care. A subsequent study done on feline diabetes showed that for every 1 kg a cat gains in excess weight, increased their chance of getting diabetes by 30%! This study also showed that weight loss alone helped to normalize their insulin sensitivity.
Dogs can have similar health risks if allowed to gain excess weight. They are at a higher risk for heart and lung problems, digestive problems, orthopedic or joint problems, as well as a multitude of behavioral problems. When excess fat is formed inside the body, we see it deposited around vital organs such as the heart, liver, and kidneys. This fatty tissue that surrounds the organ can affect its ability to function properly.
We all know dogs love to bark, dig, and chew on everything! Often we can see these behaviors develop and escalate due to boredom. If we turn the dog’s energy focus to exercise, we can often see a significant reduction, if not elimination of these behaviors. Different breeds, as well as individual dogs, can have a large variation of exercise requirements. Dogs with higher energy levels will need higher amounts of exercise. Common higher energy breeds are Retrievers, Heelers, Border Collies, some Terrier breeds, such as the Jack Russell, and certain scent hounds like the Bloodhound and Coonhound. Dogs who are timid or shy can gain confidence with regular exercise, and build up their trust.
When it comes to your pet’s overall health, exercise is a large component. Regular walks have shown to decrease blood pressure and the risk of depression while also increasing their energy and heart/lung strength. All these benefits can be seen in us too! Animals make excellent exercise buddies. Whether they are joining you on your 5km run, or you are copying their ‘downward dog,’ both you and your pet are going to feel better after. Here are some ways to get started:
A quick trip to your vet to make sure your pet is ready and able to start some physical activity. Your vet can also give you helpful pointers on what activities are best suited for your dogs specific needs. Eg. Swimming is great for older, arthritic dogs, and dogs under 6 months shouldn’t do more than 10-20 min of intense activity at a time.
Establish a routine. Dogs need order and routine to keep their mental health in check and it will also help keep you accountable! Eg. Morning and evening walks or runs and a couple 10-15 min play sessions throughout the day.
Avoid overdoing it. Start off easy and work your way up to the hard stuff, while keeping an eye out for over exhaustion and dehydration. Yes, there is such a thing as too much exercise. Some dogs, such as the Lab Retriever, will go and go until they literally cannot go anymore.
Know the breed. Certain breeds are more apt to certain tasks and activities (these are also what can develop into behavior problems if not recognized). Retrievers and spaniels were bred to ‘retrieve’ birds for hunters, so games of fetch are usually quite popular for these breeds. Scent hounds, such as bloodhounds, love games of hide and seek! Drag a treat, such as a hot dog or piece of meat all around the yard and hide it, let you pup go and watch him find the treat!
Don’t forget the cat! Though it is not common to take your cat for a walk, there are lots of ways to incorporate activity into your cat’s day. Instead of leaving a bowl of food out, hide food in toys and random places around the house. Provide toys such as mice, feathers, jingle/bell toys, and scratching posts for your cat.
Make it fun! There are a ton of ways to have fun with your pet while exercising and sneaking in some training all at the same time.
Here is a link to an exercise routine for you and your dog that incorporates some training! Win, win, win!
If you have any questions or would like to know more, don’t hesitate to give us a call!
Amie Seidle, RVT
Shaylin Muller, RVT
Alison Santangelo, RVT