Petfoodology

the scientific study of pet nutrition by veterinary nutrition specialists and experts.

What’s a Good Exercise Plan For My Pet?

What’s a Good Exercise Plan For My Pet?

With warmer weather making it easier to be active, here are some ideas to have your pets more active with you this spring and summer.

What is a good exercise routine for my pet? Start slow!

Different pets need different amounts of exercise, so you’ll want to talk to your veterinarian before starting your pet’s activity program. For example, an indoor cat may need different levels and types of activity than an active puppy! The key to introducing exercise is to take it slow and easy. Avoid turning your pet into a ‘weekend warrior,’ for example, when an otherwise sedentary dog during the week is brought on an intense hike or run on the weekend which may lead to injuries. Slowly build up to each activity and let your pet guide how much he can do while you monitor for any aches and pains after a new activity. A general guideline for health dogs without any medical conditions would be to start with a 5 min walk 3 times/day, if possible. Increase gradually until your dog shows any sign of reluctance/pain or you’ve reached a total of 30–45 min of walking per day.

Helpful tip: Watch out for the snort nose breeds!

Dogs with shortened noses or faces (called brachycephalic breeds) might not be able to get air in as effectively as their long-nosed peers, so be extra careful with dogs like Bulldogs and Pugs. These breeds may need shorter walks, longer breaks, and are less able to tolerate heat.

How can I get my cat to be more active?

While your cat may not be your best running buddy, there are many ways to get your cat more active. Some cats do well with harnesses and can be brought outside for walks or exploring around the yard on a leash. For cats that are food-motivated, you can encourage activity by spreading meals throughout different parts of the house or throwing kibble to have your cat chase it down a hallway.  Mentally stimulating cats can also be a great way to get them moving with food-dispensing toys, interactive or puzzle toys, laser pointers, and electronic mice. Don’t let your cat play with yarn or string because she may choke on it, get it stuck in her throat or digestive system, or become dangerously entangled in it.

What can I do for my dog who can’t exercise?

For dogs with exercise limitations (such as joint problems or heart disease), there are an increasing number of veterinary physical rehabilitation services available that can help improve strength and mobility while limiting the risk of further injury or worsening cardiovascular disease. Different types of physical therapy, aquatic therapy (think underwater treadmills!), or swimming/wading in shallow water can be a great way to gradually and slowly encourage activity. Work with your veterinarian to determine the best types of activity for your pet. Even just a ‘sniff’ walk can be great for dogs to get outside the house and stimulate their senses!

Helpful tip: Watch the heat!

Heat stroke is a scary and often fatal condition that happens to pets when they overexercise or overheat even without intense exercise in warmer weather. Each pet has a different tolerance for heat, but overweight dogs and those with short noses are especially at risk. Always have water available and check in with your dog frequently to provide breaks and shade, or take walks in the early morning or evening to avoid the warmest parts of the day.

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Deborah E. Linder, DVM, MS, DACVN

Dr. Deborah Linder, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, is the head of the Tufts Obesity Clinic for Animals and has had articles appear in Eating Well, the Boston Globe, AARP, SHAPE, and XM Sirius Radio Doctor Channel. She has spoken at national and international conferences and a Capitol Hill briefing, and is an expert in pet obesity, nutrition communication, and in the human-animal bond. 

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