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Lifestyle Stories

Fall is perfect time for pets to get back in shape

Tribune correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: March 23, 2013 at 11:31 AM

The cooler months ahead are the perfect time to engage yourself and your pet in physical activity to maintain healthy mind, body and soul.

"Obesity is a big problem in pets, just as it is with people, and exercising helps keep the dog's weight down," says Susan Nelson, Kansas State veterinarian and assistant professor of clinical sciences. "Dogs also need an outlet to relieve their energy or else they may develop destructive behavior. Your dog is going to be happier and more content if it receives adequate exercise."

There are lots of activities pets and their people can engage in together to improve health, Nelson says. The amount and type will vary according to a dog's age, breed, general health and the weather. Consult with your family veterinarian before engaging in a new routine of physical activity.

Meanwhile, Nelson offers helpful, general guidelines:

Larger and working dogs have higher energy needs, and smaller/toy breeds need less exercise.

Ideally, dogs should get outside twice a day for 15 to 60 minutes, depending on the animal.

Turning a dog loose in the backyard isn't enough - aerobic exercise should be continuous with few breaks. Most dogs are content to lie in the sun and only get up for short periods of activity. If the dog has another dog it can run around with outside, that could be enough if they continuously play together for long periods. But don't rely on that in most circumstances.

Nelson also suggests exercises that people can do with their pets, while keeping the individual dog's needs and interests in mind. Don't forget, check with your own veterinarian first to be sure the chosen activity is best for your dog.

Medium and large dogs typically make better long-distance running partners. If your dog can run longer than you are able, you may want to consider biking while having your dog run beside you on a leash. Pay careful attention to safety if you choose this option. Smaller dogs are better suited for shorter distance running or walking.

Although many dogs like catching flying discs, be careful to keep the throws low to avoid injury to joints from higher leaps. Herding breeds, such as border collies and Australian shepherds, perform well competitively, but there are many other pure and mixed-breed dogs that enjoy this sport.

Medium dogs, especially herding breeds, are good at agility activities such as tunnels and jumps, but big and small dogs may find them fun, too. You can find many books and resources on-line for making your own equipment and exploring agility casually at home.

Although retrievers are usually best at playing fetch, many dogs enjoy the game.

Swimming won't stress a dog's joints and is a great option during the hot, post-summer months when heat exhaustion is a concern. Retrievers are at the top of the pack for this activity.

Dogs also need mental exercise, especially breeds such as border collies. Some good games: searching for hidden items, laser light chasing or completing special tasks.

Take a few precautions to keep your pet safe:

Make sure your dog is in shape before attempting long or intense workouts. For runs, build up distance gradually.

Dogs need to get acclimated to hard surfaces. "If they have been on soft grass in the yard for an extended period of time, and then run on gravel or cement, they may tear up their pads," Nelson says. "Be mindful also in hot weather that your dog may suffer from burns to the pads from hot cement or asphalt."

All dogs are at risk for overheating, especially in our heat and humidity. Be especially cautious with dogs with short noses, like bulldogs and Boston terriers, because they can't cool themselves as effectively as other dogs. Dark-haired and long-coated dogs also are at higher risk.

If during exercise, your dog starts acting woozy, develops a dark red-colored tongue or gets thick ropy saliva, you should stop immediately and move to a shaded area. Offer water and hose it down with cool water if necessary. For more severely affected dogs, wet them down with water and take them to a veterinarian immediately.

If it's hot out, give your dog frequent water breaks while exercising and exercise in the early morning or the evening.

Young dogs, particularly large breed puppies, shouldn't go on long runs until about 12 to 15 months of age. Up to that time, prolonged, pounding exercise on hard surfaces can damage their joints.

Don't feed your dog right before or right after intense exercise. This may predispose the dog's stomach to bloat or twist, especially for large breed or deep-chested dogs. A general rule of thumb is to not feed dogs an hour before or after exercising.


Write to pet-lifestyle expert Kristen Levine at Fetching Communications, P.O. Box 222, Tarpon Springs FL 34688; e-mail kristen@fetchingcommunications.com.

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