Just like humans, dogs are suffering in greater and greater numbers from obesity. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that 54 percent of dogs are overweight. Dogs that pack a few extra pounds may be more susceptible to conditions like arthritis. That's why exercise for dogs isn't just a fun activity for your furry friend, it's a necessity to keep your pup physically well.
Exercising your dog also keeps him happy! Dogs that blow off steam regularly are less likely to engage in destructive and attention-getting behaviors like chewing, nonstop barking and biting. They also feel more connected to you, making the bond between pet parent and dog stronger.
Now that you're sufficiently motivated to get you and your four-legged fitness buddy off the couch, let's talk about the right kinds of exercise for your dog.
Different Needs at Different Life Stages
The exercise needs of a puppy as compared to a senior dog are obviously different. A pup is a squirmy bundle of lovable energy that can play seemingly endless games of fetch, race in circles at the dog park or happily chase the kids around the backyard for an entire afternoon. A senior dog, on the other hand, might rather take walks instead of the runs he used to love. But a senior dog still needs exercise. Just like their human counterparts, senior dogs need exercise to aid mobility, maintain a healthy weight and to stay mentally stimulated. Be aware of how physical activity impacts an aging dog after your workout. If your dog appears to suffer from joint pain or arthritis, talk to your veterinarian about how to minimize his discomfort while exercising your dog. Swimming, for instance, is one exercise that gives your dog a workout while minimizing joint pain. Also, if you go on long walks make sure to bring water with you to keep him hydrated and try to keep the walks close to stopping points in case he gets tired. If you notice him struggling, make sure to stop and rest.
Know Your Dog's Needs, Limitations
The idea of healthy exercise for dogs varies for different breeds and sizes of dogs. Dr. Marty Becker, DVM outlines how the needs and abilities differ from dog to dog. Take these suggestions into account the next time you take your pup out for some fun.
- Dogs with short snouts, like Pekingese and bulldogs, don't have much tolerance for exercise and can overheat — or even die — if they overexert themselves. Walking is often the best exercise for them. Likewise, swimming is not something many dogs with shorter snouts take to.
- Dogs with long backs and short legs, like corgis and dachshunds, are prone to back injuries. That means catching Frisbees® shouldn't be on your list of physical fun if you have one of these breeds. Other injuries are common in specific breeds, so take your dog's pedigree and physical characteristics into account when you choose an activity.
- Also, be aware of what type of exercise your dog is bred to enjoy. Retrievers, for instance, are bred to fetch and swim so will most likely enjoy paddling into a lake or playing fetch with you for hours. Greyhounds, conversely, are bred for short bursts of speed. They love to run, but after a short, intense workout are likely to be ready for a nap. Shepherds are bred to herd, so take this into consideration when coming up with fun exercises for him to enjoy.
- How long and thick is your dog's coat? A dog with a thick coat, like an Akita or German shepherd, might get overheated in the summer faster than a dog with a short thin coat. A dog with a short thin coat, however, like a Boston terrier or a boxer, will have less tolerance for cold weather.
Not sure what type of exercise for dogs is best? Prevention Magazine offers a helpful guide on the different exercise needs for different breeds of dogs.
Choice of Food Is Important, Too
Just like with humans, the type of food a dog eats can affect his energy level. Hill's® foods can also help a dog with specific health problems that might impact their ability to exercise. Talk to your vet about what food is right for your dog throughout his life stages.
You also want to make sure that your dog maintains a healthy weight as he ages. Being overweight exacerbates physical issues and shortens lifespans. If your dog needs to shed a few pounds, consider food that is lower in calorie and designed for weight management.
Water is also essential to exercise. Make sure your dog is staying hydrated before physical activity. A lack of water can lead to overheating much quicker causing larger health concerns.
Start Slow and Build Up
If you're starting a new exercise regimen with your dog, be sure not to overdo it. Just like with their human family, dogs need time to build up stamina. You should also consult with your vet before starting a new exercise regimen to see if he or she has any advice about how to get started and what kind of meal plan your dog should maintain. Also, pay attention to how your dog feels and acts during and after exercising. Keep in mind, for example, how hot the day is and that concrete and asphalt can be rough or burn a dog's feet.
The benefits of exercise for dogs are both immediate and long lasting. Your furry companion is important to you, and keeping him in shape physically will help him live a long, happy, and healthy life. Now snap on the leash, grab some water and a waste bag, and get going!
Kara Murphy is a freelance writer in Erie, Pennsylvania. She has a cat named Olive whose favorite toy is a cardboard box.