It’s obvious to us as people, that exercise plays an important role in maintaining our health. We are encouraged at a young age to eat well and to get a good amount of daily activity into our schedule, so why should it be any different for our furry companions? It is up to us as responsible pet parents to ensure that they are eating properly and exercising regularly so that they can have the longest and healthiest life possible.
So where should you start? The best first step is to come in and see us! Cats and dogs face some of the complications that we do when we begin to age and gain weight, and we are here to evaluate your pet for any heart, lung or other health problems that could keep your animal from any harm. It is also important to check for signs of arthritis or musculoskeletal disease. An animal with inflamed joints or ligaments may require a low impact exercise plan. Young or old, it is important to keep a realistic routine considering your job schedule and other duties that life demands. Along with that, it is also great to set a goal for yourself and your pet! Whether it is just an energetic youngster who needs to burn energy, or a senior that has slowed down over the years, there is always an option for them and exercise is one of the best ways to bond with your furry comrades, and they will thank you for it.
Let’s begin with the dogs! After a long day at the office, most people are itching to get out of dodge to head home. Waiting for you at home is your pup who has patiently been waiting for you all day because they too, are eager to get out of the house for some fresh air. And who could be a better motivator than mans best friend? Big or small, young or old, dogs have needs that should be taken into account too. Without daily activity, dogs can become frustrated from boredom and this can lead to bad behaviors like being destructive for example. Exercise tones the muscles, helps the body and metabolic system function properly and engages the mind. Just like in humans, being overweight can be the start and cause to many more problems. Exercise requirements differ depending on what kind of pooch you have. If you have a working breed dog (e.g. Labrador retrievers, collies, shepherds) then it is suggested to spend at least an hour doing a rigorous workout. Because working breeds have high levels of energy, this is a perfect opportunity for you and your dog to go out and spend a morning or evening together running. If this is not an option for yourself, there are lots of alternatives to keep your pooch busy while you stroll along side. But the requirements are different in the cases of our brachycephalic kinds (e.g. bulldogs, pugs, boxers) or our toy breeds (e.g. Chihuahua, poodle, spaniels) and exercise needs to be thought through a little differently. These kinds are not bred to run long distances or endure difficult exercises due to having troubles breathing or just by simply not being the right build for an exhaustive trial. But they have just as much right as our working breeds to get out and use their muscles! Places like the park or an off-leash dog park are the perfect opportunity for any kind of dog to get out and enjoy a stroll, chase a ball or their favorite toy and it also gives them a chance to communicate with their fellow hounds. If you can, take advantage of nearby water source that allows dogs to swim! Swimming is a low impact way to exercise and is easy on the joints but uses a lot of muscles which is ideal for our senior companions or for those who require an easier workout. There is plenty of things you can do with your dogs, and it is good to switch it up and keep their minds guessing by taking a new path or throwing a new toy. Be creative! But with all of these activities to do it’s good to think of possible consequences.
Remember to keep in mind that your dog does not sweat like humans do so try avoiding hot times of the day, and avoid the colder days when it can also be tough on your pet with chances of slipping on ice or getting frost bite. And make sure that you either bring a source of water for the both of you or else go somewhere you know there is a suitable place for your dog to take a drink. If your dog is showing obvious signs of being exhausted, such as fast panting or not being able to keep up with you, stop and give them a break to catch up with themselves and return home as soon as you can. You want your dog to be happily tired, not completely fatigued by the end of the workout. If your area offers hiking areas than you have got one lucky pup! Most dogs love to go out to see and smell new things, but if you live in an area where ticks live or even ticks that carry Lyme disease you want to make sure that you and your dog are protected. There are also other pet safe flea and tick preventatives as well as a Lyme vaccine, but it is always good to check the both of you afterwards for anything that may have latched on. Another thing some people forget to consider is terrain. Over time dogs begin to develop thicker pads, but there are lots of dog shoes that are available to help keep your dog’s feet in pristine condition. This is ideal if you are going to be in an area with gravel or especially during the winter when it is easy for ice to build up in between their pads.
As for the cats, it is easier for outdoor toms to get the exercise from being able to chase bugs, small rodents, birds and climbing trees and of course from having free run of a backyard. But your indoor tabby has just as much opportunity for activity as an outdoor cat does! It is really important that we give our cats lots of physical and mental stimulation, especially if they are at home alone for most of the day. Depending on their age and weight, it is highly encouraged to engage at least 30 minutes of play for them every day. As your kitten grows into an adult and then into a senior, you will find that they are not as easily amused as they were in their kitten-hood, so entertaining your cat can become a process of trial and error. Things like a laser pointer simulates the movement of an insect and cats will go crazy for the “little red bug” that never goes away. It gives them a great opportunity to burn off energy that they have built up during the day. Another common option people depend on for their indoor felines is cat towers. They are easily made by hand or purchased at your convenience typically where any pet products are sold. Cat towers give your cat a chance to use its muscles by jumping, climbing or scratching just like it would with a real tree (saving your furniture). And most cats will not turn down a good swat at a fuzzy toy mouse or a bunch of feathers on the end of a string. This is intriguing to cats because it mocks prey that they would find outdoors. But unlike dogs, cats tend to keep to themselves a lot more which is why it is a good idea to set up an environment for your cat to have fun in even when you are not home. This does not mean that you have to go out and buy every top of the line toy for your feline to be happy, but having an array of different toys is a good way of keeping them entertained and even switching out toys every now of then keeps them from getting bored of the same old ones. Or it can even be as easy as bringing home all your boxes from a big trip to Costco, the paper shopping bags that make a lot of noise, or even a crumpled up piece of paper. Sometimes, it is the simple things in life for them. Another popular option that is available is a puzzle feeder. The puzzle feeder is a small ball that engages your cat in activity while eating. It allows you to put their food into an opening, and as your cat begins to bat it around, the food will dispense out of the adjustable holes that make it easier or harder for them to retrieve the little bits of kibble as it rolls around. If you want to go the extra mile, you can go as far as building shelving units around your walls that your cat can jump and lounge on, or teaching your cat a trick (yes it is possible!) or even going as far as getting a cat wheel. We as cat owners may have our work cut out for us, but committing to a healthier cat means the healthiest diet and providing them with as much opportunity for exercise as we can!
At the very least, exercising your pet is something that you can both benefit from. There is always a place for them to start and there is never a bad time. Along with bringing your pets in to see us for regular visits, we can ensure that they really are happy and healthy and that you are doing a great job!