Friday, Sep. 2nd 2011

Exercise for pets

Veterinary Alternatives

September 2011 Newsletter

Exercise and your Pet

We all know exercise is beneficial for just about everybody, but how should you exercise your pet, and what kind of exercise is best?


Just about any pet can benefit from exercise, unless they have certain heart conditions or certain metabolic disorders or cancer—check with the attending veterinarian if you are unsure. However, different types of pets and animals with different disorders have different needs.


Pets with arthritis, back pain, neck pain and similar issues can be greatly helped by appropriate exercise. A general rule of thumb is that if they are more sore and stiff the day after exercise, you need to decrease the intensity, by perhaps about 25% at a time, until you reach a level they tolerate. The worst thing you can do with pets with these pain issues is allow them to lie around all the time. This will cause their muscles to shrink and contract, and make their condition worse. They need the support of the muscles to help keep the joints moving.


Non-weight bearing exercise, like swimming, can be great for many dogs. Most sporting breeds enjoy swimming, which can be done in ponds or lakes or swimming pools during warmer seasons. You can even purchase flotation vests for dogs if you are concerned about their stamina or swimming ability. In pools, you can actually have a leash on your dog and walk alongside the pool keeping them within arm’s reach if needed. Small dogs can be placed in a bathtub with enough tepid water to come up to about shoulder height and just be encouraged to walk in circles around the tub—the water can support their chest and body and decrease the weight on their joints, as well as providing resistance to strengthen muscles, but since they are walking instead of swimming they are less likely to be upset. One client of this practice even got a round livestock tank and placed it in their basement near a drain and taught their arthritic beagle to swim in circles around it on a leash.


Walking is good exercise for most dogs, and even cats can be trained to walk on a leash. Again, start slowly and gradually work up to a level that they tolerate well. Use treats and praise if they need some help staying with you and walking on the leash. Even a walk to the mailbox and back is good for severely overweight or elderly pets—you have to start somewhere! Keep them moving and their quality of life will be improved.


More intense exercise; like running, hunting, agility, herding, and Frisbee-catching, is only appropriate for younger and more fit dogs that have worked up to that level gradually while in training. Older dogs that have participated in these types of exercise since they were young can often continue into their senior years, although perhaps at a slightly less intense level. Protecting the joints with glucosamine and similar products should start early with these dogs. My nine-year-old Italian Greyhound is still competing actively in agility with no apparent arthritis.


Cats can be walked on a leash, although some breeds are more comfortable with this than others. The training process can be somewhat difficult, however. Other ways to get cats to exercise include providing rolling toys, using a laser pointer for them to chase, or trying some of the various toys-on-a-stick available at most pet stores. Often, a companion cat that is younger and more playful will get an older cat up and around again.


If your pet is very ill or in recovery and cannot be exercised in the standard way, you can still do what is called “range-of-motion” exercises to help keep the joints limber and the muscles functioning. Gently support and hold one leg at a time while the pet is lying down. Stretch and fully extend all the joints in the leg as far as is comfortable for your pet and hold a few seconds. Then fold and flex all the joints in the leg as much as they can go without your pet showing distress and again hold a few seconds. Continue to cycle the leg in this fashion 8-10 times about three times a day. Do this with all four legs, unless there is an injury or surgical repair that prevents it.


Of course, with many dogs, they can get their exercise playing ball, chasing sticks, following you around the yard while you do yardwork, and playing with their fellow pets. As long as they keep moving and keep their weight down, you’re doing your job to keep your four-legged companion healthy and comfortable as long as possible.

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