Exercise may seem like something pets do naturally but the truth is, like us, even dogs and cats can become inactive and lazy if not encouraged to get up and move. Coupled with high calorie snacking, this makes them susceptible to a range of series diseases like diabetes and joint ailments. About half of the pets we see in our clinics are overweight which means they’re moving too little and eating too much.
Exercise is good for their health
Exercise isn’t just good for weight loss, it is also excellent for building muscle and for joint health. This is especially important for breeds that are susceptible to arthritis, and for older animals – both cats and dogs – who almost always suffer some degree of joint pain.
Exercise is also good for the soul. Many animals are frustrated and bored because we leave them alone for long periods. The time they spend exercising with you – going for a walk or run or playing fetch – makes them happier and less anxious. This is also excellent for bonding between you and your pet, and it keeps your pet’s brain stimulated too.
But wait, before you exercise with your pet…
- It is always advisable to have your pet checked over by your vet before embarking on any exercise programme, especially with older pets as they may have an underlying heart problem or arthritis that you are unaware of. Your vet will design an exercise programme that takes this into account.
- Young pets should not exercise too exuberantly, especially large breed dogs that are still growing. Dr Ingrid de Wet of Country Animal Clinic in Somerset West recommends that large breed puppies are walked only short distances, until they are a year old. Only then can they jog and do more intense exercise.
- Dogs with short noses, like bulldogs and pugs, may struggle with exercise, especially when it is hot. Their exercise routine should be built up slowly, and they should never exercise on a hot day.
- Honde met kort neuse (bv. bulldogs, pugs) ens kan soms sukkel met oefening veral as dit warm is. So bou stadig op met die oefening en moet nooit hulle op ‘n warm dag laat oefen nie.
- If your dog is aggressive towards other animals, you won’t want to take him out for his walk or run at peak times. Choose quiet times of the day, or exercise at home. The same goes for dogs that are anxious.
Exercises for dogs
- WALKING – this is the easiest form of exercise and you need very little equipment other than a harness. However, it is important to ensure that your dog is well socialised and doesn’t pull on his harness before taking him out. Puppy training helps enormously.
- JOGGING – is great for a dog that is fit and doesn’t have health issues. Check with your vet before taking your dog out for a run.
- SWIMMING – this is often the best kind of exercise, particularly for dogs with arthritis or those that are very overweight. But remember that not all dogs can swim! Bassets en bull dogs struggle in the water, and some dogs are afraid of it.
- GAMES – if you have a dog that likes to dig, build a sandpit and bury toys in it. It’ll keep your dog busy for hours. Retrievers like to play ball, Staffies enjoy tugs of war and Collies like to herd so provide them with several balls of different sizes that they can push and herd with their noses.
- SPORT – some dogs enjoy agility classes at dog trials. Research your dog’s breed before choosing his ideal exercise plan.
Do cats need exercise?
We forget that cats need exercise, possibly because they appear so agile and nimble, but bear in mind that the average domestic cat sleeps around 18 hours per day. Cats in the wild will spend most of their waking hours looking for food and so they get their exercise naturally but domestic cats don’t have to search for their food so they move a lot less.
Exercises for cats
- FOOD feed dispensers help prolong mealtimes. A ball stuffed with cat pellets that the cat must roll for the pellets to fall out will keep your cat entertained and exercised as well as fed. These, and other puzzle feeders that make food fun, are available at all EberVet Vetshops. You could also try putting small bowls of food in different places in the house so the cat needs to look for them to eat.
- TOYS games that require your cat to ‘hunt’ (catnip mice, balls, wind-up toys) or tunnels and castles he must creep through or climb will not only keep him entertained for hours, they also keep him agile.
- WALK if you start training when he’s a kitten you can teach your cat to walk in a harness, and take him for walks just the way you would a dog!
When is exercise too much?
You’ll be very lucky to keep a cat’s attention for 10-15 minutes a day. Aim for two to three short playtimes per day.
Look out for signs of tiredness while exercising and if you notice that your dog or cat looks stiff or sore after an exercise session (even the next day), you’re probably doing too much. Adapt your exercise routine to accommodate aches and pains, and have your pet checked by your vet.
What else can I do to help my pet lose weight?
- See your vet. Your pet may be suffering an underlying health condition that is affecting his weight. Your vet can also determine your pet’s ideal weight.
- Change his diet. This is terribly important. On the advice of your vet, you can change your pet’s diet to a formula that will help him lose weight without losing necessary nutrients.
- Never offer snacks from the table. Avoid human food snacking where possible as many human foods are toxic to pets, and have high calorie contents.
- Get professional help. As with humans, it is often easier to get professional help when needing to lose weight. Your vet can suggest dietary changes and the right kind of exercise; a physic might be necessary.