Now is a great time to safely introduce increased activity for your dogs. With spring upon us, and as your attention turns to greater personal fitness, don’t forget the importance of exercise for your pets. April is Canine Fitness Month, and according to one expert at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, now is a perfect time for pet owners to learn how to safely introduce increased activity for their dogs.
“Dog owners need to let their pets return to increased exercise in a safe manner,” said Liz Hodson, a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner and licensed veterinary technician, who leads the Physical Rehabilitation Service at the college’s Wilford and Kate Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital.
“Dogs are not unlike people, in that they tend to get more sedentary during the winter months,” Hodson said. “With the warmer temperatures and nicer weather coming on, pet owners are beginning to let their dogs exercise more, but the thing to remember is that those activities need to be ramped up slowly and safely.”
Also, owners can’t expect a dog to participate in exercise at a level it’s not properly conditioned for. Dogs are “short sprinters”—they naturally run for short periods, stop and sniff, run a bit more, etc. Something as demanding as endurance running requires a careful, methodical approach, much like it would for a human who’s never done long-distance running but decides to run a 10K.
Dogs may also have put on a little extra weight during winter. Losing that weight—and doing so in a healthy manner—is important, Hodson said.
Hodson provides the following advice:
- Get your dog’s veterinarian to OK your diet/exercise program before starting
- Introduce your dog to a low-impact exercise regimen
- Build the duration slowly as your dog’s muscles get used to being more active
- Be mindful of reduced stamina in your dog after a winter lag
- Be aware of hotter walking surfaces
- Decrease your dog’s calorie intake and make sure its diet is balanced
- Maintain adequate hydration and ensure your dog has sufficient water
Of course, diet plays an important role in fitness and weight loss, Hodson said.
“It is extremely important to not overfeed a dog,” she said. “And, use an appropriate measuring container when portioning out the dog’s food. A coffee mug is not necessarily equivalent to a cup.”