Exercise for your dog
As well as physical benefits, there are also mental and emotional enrichments. The importance of exercise in humans is well known and people take positive steps to fulfil their own exercise needs. However, despite this knowledge, many people fail to realise their animal’s requirements and many domestic pets are still not having their exercise demands met.
What are the physical benefits of exercise for dogs?
• Raises metabolic rate
• Increased muscle tone and strength
• Increased joint flexibility
• Improves circulation
• Increases bone strength
• Reduces risk of heart and respiratory disease
• Weight control. Avoids diseases such as obesity and diabetes
• Can help manage arthritis
• Boosts the immune system
• Aids digestion
• A healthier happier pet that lives longer
• Strengthens the bond between you and your pet
• Mental stimulation
• Emotional well being
• Reduces stress
• Brings about stable sleep patterns
• Reduces behavioral problems
Raising the metabolic rate is an extremely important aspect of weight control. Animals who exercise regularly have an increased basal metabolic rate (the rate the body burns calories while at rest). This means that when resting they are burning more calories than animals who don’t exercise. This is partly due to a muscle effect since muscle burns more energy than fat. Increasing muscle mass therefore can serve to raise the metabolic rate.
Animals in the wild have very active lifestyles. They are always on the move in search for food, mates and escaping predators. This constant activity creates muscular strength and joint flexibility. Our domesticated friends often adopt sedentary lifestyles in comparison tending them towards obesity and muscular weakness. Regular exercise can help build this muscle to a more natural state, offering weight control and reduced risk of injury. Well developed muscle can also help with postural alignment and reduce the risk of injury.
Remember that the heart is a muscle and responds to exercise like other muscles in the body. The same positive strengthening effects areseen with regular exercise, which result in improved circulation and reduced blood pressure. A strong heart can pump out larger volumes of blood per beat, along with oxygen and vital nutrients.
Weight bearing exercise places stress on bones of the body. These forces cause remodelling of bone according to where the greatest stress points are. This means that regular exercise can help develop and strengthen bones through new bone growth. Sedentary animals often have weak bones since remodelling and strengthening does not occur. These weakened bones are much more prone to injury.
As our lifestyles get busier, our pets have to spend more time alone. Work commitments, busy social lives and the arrival of babies all contribute to the sad fact that we get to spend less time with our pets. Dogs that spend a lot of time alone can develop behavioural problems. Some become shy or even aggressive without regular human contact.
Exercise offers a chance for you to spend time with your dog. It can strengthen the bond between you, increasing your dogs confidence, esteem and emotional well-being. You can select different types of exercise to provide different levels of mental stimulation. Varying activities can keep your pet eager to participate.
Regular exercise seems to have an effect on creating stable sleep patterns. It can reduce stress and increase mental alertness when awake.
Exercise for dogs with Arthritis
Trying to do heavy exercise on arthritic joints can be not only painful but also can cause more damage to the already inflamed joints. Not doing any exercise on arthritic joints can be just as detrimental since these joints can effectively “seize up” and become even stiffer and more immobile. The solution is to encourage a gentle and regular exercise regime which takes into account the specific joint condition. Small amounts of gentle exercise undertaken frequently can
help mobility in the joint and delay the onset of the condition. This exercise would preferably be low weight bearing so as not to stress the damaged joints. Exercise needs to be:
• Short duration
• Low weight bearing
An excellent example of low weight bearing exercise which is great for dogs, would be hydrotherapy or swimming. In fact this is one of the only non- weight bearing exercises
available to our canine companions. This is particularly effective in dogs that are also obese since exercising these animals puts excessive weight on compromised joints. Putting the
dogs in water lifts this excess weight off the joints and allows a greater and unrestricted range of movement. Swimming allows the joints to become more mobile and flexible as well as strengthening muscles around them.
As well as being incredibly fun, swimming has positive effects on:
• Range of motion and flexibility
• Cardiovascular fitness
• Core stability and strength
• Recovery from injury or operation
Swimming as a recreational activity is an excellent way of developing and maintaining fitness. It has positive effects on strength, stamina and the cardiovascular system. Swimming in dogs and horses uses all the major muscle groups which would be used in normal locomotion on land. However, the impact on the skeletal system (bones and joints) is greatly reduced compared to land based exercise. The joints are not subjected to high impact stresses which can be particularly harmful in disease states such as arthritis. Swimming is a great way of building strength as muscles also have to work harder since the water provides more resistance to movement.
Walking is much more comfortable on soft grass or on the beach than on hard concrete so hit the park instead of the high street when taking your dog out for a walk. Ensure the walking surface is even without any steep inclines and your dog will have a much more comfortable experience.
Avoid high weight bearing exercise such as:
• Running on hard surfaces
• Playing fetch
• Any activity causing your dog to jump on its hind legs
Always seek your vet’s advice before starting any exercise regime to establish your dog’s capabilities. Your vet may even prescribe anti – inflammatories such as Rimadyl or Metacam which have pain killing properties for arthritis and may allow your dog to exercise more freely.
Pet owners are increasingly using supplements to help treat arthritis. Some supplements such as Glucosamine and Chondroitin can actually help rebuild damaged cartilage and reduce further damage to the joint. Supplements such as Cod Liver oil and Evening Primrose oil have also shown to have some effects.