Fitness is something we take for granted in our pets. Most young pets are more active than their owners, but older pets can lose their enthusiasm for play and become more sedate. If the food amount stays the same, the end result is weight gain. Over feeding contributes to weight gain, but so does under exercising.
Exercise takes many forms. Some dogs are kept at the peak of condition by working, running or doing activities like agility on a regular basis. Most pets get indoor or outdoor playtime, backyard access, or walks on or off leash. It is the sustained movement that works the muscles and maintains strength. Backyard exercise – chasing squirrels, playing ball, running along the fence – can lead to more stress on a joint, in particular when the footing is slippery or uneven. Most backyard exercise is done in spurts interspersed with resting (sometimes mostly resting). That is why I still recommend regular walks even when the pet has a large backyard.
Make sure to check with your veterinarian before starting any new exercise routine
Find an activity that keeps your pet moving for 20 -30 minutes at a time. Try and do this daily.
Add some challenge to your regular walks. Take a route that goes uphill or includes stairs. Pick up the pace for some of the walk.
Incorporate muscle building exercises into the activity.
Doggy squats are just a sit/stand and repeat. Check that the sit is straight and not sloppy.
Do figure ‘8’s or tight circles with your dog on a leash. This enhances back flexion and leg co-ordination.
Walk on and off the curb (where traffic allows). Even a little step can make a difference.
Place sticks or thin boards on the ground. Walking your dog over them encourages them to lift their paws higher. You can purchase cavaletti jumps that are raised off the ground to increase the challenge.
You can buy balance discs and rocker boards for overall co-ordination.
Swimming is excellent exercise, especially for seniors. Use a flotation jacket to allow lots of leg movement, without worrying about your dog getting tired or having to keep its head up.
Cats also need to move, especially as so many of them live mostly indoors. Get your cat moving around the house with a string toy or a laser. Have the litter and food on different floors to make use of stairs during the day. Make them chase low calorie treats or use a treat ball to get them active.
Why is it important?
Exercise does more than burn calories and fat. Regular exercise is crucial for heart health, bone density, and muscle strength. If the muscles are strong and conditioned, this can decrease the risk of injury and support aging joints. Using muscles is the best way of keeping muscles and that makes for a better quality of life for our pets.
Many thanks to Caroline McNulty for her assistance with this article.