That dreaded annual trip to the veterinarian with Fritz is coming up. You know what Dr. Adams is going to say, "Fritz is too heavy. He needs to eat fewer calories and get more exercise." You can hear the words ring through your head while you sit in the waiting room with Fritz nervously leaning against your legs. The same thing probably happens to most of us as we sit waiting to see our own physicians. We know what is best but sometimes eating right and exercising fall short of being highest on our priority list. So today, we are going to focus on the exercise portion of the equation and in Part II we will start to explore the vast topic of nutrition. Our goal is not to make your visit to AVH a stress-inducing event; we want to work with you in the lifelong journey of maintaining or improving your pet's health. However, we need your help, so please do not cry when you get your reminder postcard in the mail but look at Fritz's wellness exam as an opportunity to get on the right track. We are here for you to use as a resource and are always open to your suggestions and requests.
I have a quote that I like to mention when I am discussing the importance of exercise. Once again it is as valid for the human species as it is for our furry companions.
"Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness." ~Edward Stanley
Not to say that bad things do not happen to fit beasts but an animal's ability to avoid disaster and recover from disease are markedly improved with a healthy body and immune system (which are often tied together). I think that there are 4 goals that should be fulfilled with a good exercise plan.
1. Improvement in quality of life - what dog does not like to go for a walk? We do not often think of pets and mental health but many behavior problems could be avoided with regular exercise. Our pets need mental and physical stimulation, as much as we do.
2. Maintaining strength. Pets need strong muscles to support their joints. This is an important aspect of delaying the affects of arthritis and avoiding injuries. Keeping a strong core is the most vital component. Without abdominal strength your pet's back will suffer mightily. We see many old dogs with a sway back, this is often a result of weak core musculature.
3. Maintaining Flexibility - your pet must have flexible joints and spine to continue to do the things they like and need to do. Watch a dog get up from lying down; they use their front legs, back legs, and abdominal muscles to go from a down to standing position. This sounds like an easy task but as our pets age, doing simple things like rising can become extremely difficult without strong muscles and flexible joints.
4. Endurance - this will improve your pet's cardiovascular and respiratory systems and help to maintain proper weight. Weight management will reap the greatest benefit when it comes to keeping your pet’s joints and internal organs healthy over the course of its life.
One of the most common statements I hear from clients when I am discussing the importance of exercise is
"I have a big back yard and my dogs run around out there all day". Really.... watch them, what kind of exercise are they getting in the big back yard (and more importantly are they annoying your neighbors)? A single dart across the yard after a squirrel is more likely to result in a torn knee ligament than a good level of fitness. Consistent and prolonged activity will improve health and endurance more than some sniffing around and an occasional run along the fence. Nothing beats a good, long walk (or swim).
So a daily walk or two is a good start (for both you and your dog) but most pets need directed strengthening and flexibility exercises as well to round out proper fitness. Playing with other dogs (or cats) or fetching a ball are great ways to introduce strength training to your pet. If your dog is an only child, you may want to consider a trip to doggie daycare once or twice a week to provide the opportunity for play in addition to socialization. I have also included some examples of my favorite exercises to get you started. I love the Cookie Stretch, it is easy and provides a good bonding moment for you and your dog. Have your pet in a standing position and hold a treat back by his/her hip, they will curl their spine and reach back to get the treat. Do this at the level of the hip, the knee, and the foot on both sides. To round it out, also get your dog to reach between his/her front legs to get another treat. The other exercise is a 2 leg diagonal stand, pick up the opposite front and back legs (give your pet time to balance) and hold for 10-30 seconds. With older or injured dogs, you may only be able to lift one leg at a time. If you can incorporate these exercises into your normal routine, you will often ward off back injuries in the future.
The above discussion has focused mostly on dogs but cats need exercise too. Indoor cats have an astonishingly high rate of obesity in the United States. Cats are sometimes a little more challenging to get them up and moving from their favorite sun bathing spot on the window sill, but if you are creative, you can really add to your cat's quality and quantity of life with daily play.
If you have questions about fitness or diet, please feel free to send them via email. We want you to be successful in providing the best care for your dogs and cats.