Fit Tips for Our Favorite Animal Companions:
Exercise is essential in maintaining good health for both humans and pets. Not only does exercise make us healthier, but daily activity can increase energy levels, prevent weight gain, improve sleep, and much more. For dogs (and most companion animals), exercise not only provides the benefits listed above, but it also acts as enrichment thus improving their quality of life. Another positive is that when you exercise with your pet, you strengthen the human-animal connection. And who wouldn’t want to feel closer to their favourite furry friend?
Without daily activity, many dog breeds develop destructive behaviours, such as chewing on shoes, couches, walls, etc. This is problematic for both you and your dog and can be a stressful situation amongst family members. Additionally, without exercise, dogs can experience weight gain and/or a loss of muscle mass, making them more prone to chronic diseases.
Unfortunately, some pets are limited in how much activity they can handle. For instance, my dog (Apollo) has hip dysplasia and had a Triple Pelvic Osteotomy at 11 months old. I have to be very cognizant when walking or jogging with him to not go too far, or run too fast, so that he isn’t in pain.
Many brachycephalic dogs (i.e. pugs, bulldogs, shih tzus, etc.) can also not handle intense exercise due to their shortened snouts. This is especially apparent on those hot summer days and can actually be very dangerous for these breeds. It is important to know your pet’s limits before beginning to exercise them. Additionally, just like humans, pets can get sore muscles. Starting small is key, allowing their muscles and endurance levels to adjust to the additional activity.
It is recommended for pets to get a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise per day, with some breeds needing up to two hours of daily activity. These requirements are dependent on age, breed, size and health status, so it is important to consult with your veterinarian before beginning any exercise program with your pet.
If you are ready to get fit with your favourite doggo, then here are some ideas to spice up your usual walk around the block.
Go for a hike
There is nothing like being in the woods with your dog. You can check out dog-friendly hikes at www.bringfido.com or by simply googling “Dog-Friendly Hikes” in your area. Start a new weekend activity by getting outdoors and enjoying nature. Begin with small, easy hikes and gradually build up to longer ones. This is a great way to improve your quality of life, as well as your pet’s. Make sure you bring lots of water, especially during the summer. You can purchase collapsible water bowls and fold them into your backpack when you are ready to hit the trails.
Check out a new dog park
Although I am not the biggest fan of dog parks, they can be really great for dogs to socialize and exercise. It is also nice for humans as well, with dog-lovers gathering in one place. It can be a great place to meet new friends and schedule doggie playdates.
Register for Agility Training
Many of my peers do this with their dogs in veterinary school. It is a great way to build a relationship with your dog while exercising. Additionally, it is great for dogs that struggle with obedience issues and confidence. I have seen agility training totally change a dog’s personality for the better! It is a great investment if you have the time, the will, and the training facility to commit to a once-a-week agility training class.
Do you have a backyard or a field nearby? Don’t underestimate the power of a good game of fetch! Chasing after a ball or a toy can be a great way for your dog to burn off those extra calories in a short amount of time. Tug-of-war can also be a great way to exercise your pet.
Doggy daycares are popping up all over the place and can be a great way to socialize your dog and get their energy out while you are at work. Even once per week can make a huge difference in your pet’s behaviour and health.
10,000 Steps/Day Challenge
The American Heart Association recommends that people should get 10,000 steps per day. Have your dog participate in a 10,000 steps per day challenge with you! Whether you have a FitBit or use an app on your phone, bring your pup along and have them walk with you whenever you step outside your house. I often do this with Apollo and it encourages me to be healthier as well!
A Fitness Dog Robot
New on the market is a Smart weight-loss robot for pets by Varram. Although I have not tried this product yet, I am excited to see how it helps Apollo with both his anxiety and fitness. You can check out the video at the link below:
There are so many activities you can do with your dog. Think – swimming, running, hiking, walking, skating, biking. It is important to keep in mind your pet’s limits and not push them too far. Start slow and work up to a routine that works for the both of you. If you have concerns about your pet’s weight or over-all fitness level, contact your veterinarian.
Listed below are the websites that I referenced throughout this blog post. Use them as resources and create a sustainable exercise plan that you can adhere to. Consistency is key, so although it may be appealing to plan to hike 3 miles every day, start with small attainable goals. That is the key to success.
About the author:
Shelby Baden is a third-year veterinary student at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. She is tracking small animal/exotic companion animal medicine and working on a certification in Small Animal Acupuncture. Shelby is also a 200-hour registered Yoga Teacher and spends her free time teaching goat yoga in Athens, GA.
Additionally, she started her own blog (travelingdogtor.com/blog), where she focuses on mental health and anxiety in the veterinary profession.
You can also find her on Instagram (@traveling_dogtor) for more pet tips.