According to the National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Study conducted by 95 veterinary clinics nationwide, more than 44 percent of all dogs are overweight or downright obese. The fat stats for people in America are even higher, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that around 67 percent of adults are heavier than they should be. In addition to eating a healthy, balanced diet, both you and your dog need exercise to stay as fit and trim as possible.
If you share your digs with one or more dogs, you have already made a health-boosting decision, reports the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI). Their members determined that:
- Dogs lower their owner’s blood pressure.
- Dogs improve our psychological health.
- Dogs encourage us to exercise.
That last finding helps to explain the other two, but why is a dog-human team such a winner in terms of exercise?
Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound
A recent ReCHAI program paired senior citizens with either a human or a canine walking buddy. At the end of the project, researchers measured how much the seniors’ activity levels improved.
“The older people who walked their dogs improved their walking capabilities by 28 percent,” says Dr. Rebecca Johnson, director of ReCHAI. “They had more confidence walking on the trail, and they increased their speed. The older people who walked with humans only had a 4 percent increase in their walking capabilities. The human walking buddies tended to discourage each other and used excuses such as the weather being too hot.”
Guidelines for Exercising With Your Dog
Before heading out on the trail with your dog, schedule a checkup for you and your furry friend. Dr. Susan Nelson, a veterinarian at Kansas State University also advises that you keep the following dozen guidelines in mind:
1. In general, large, working dogs have higher energy needs than smaller/toy breeds, which require less exercise.
2. Your dog should exercise anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes twice daily, depending on its size, breed, age and condition.
3. Medium and large dogs typically make better long-distance running partners. Smaller dogs are better-suited for short-distance running or walking.
4. Keep plastic disc throws low to avoid injuring your dog’s joints.
5. Swimming is a fantastic non-joint-stressing exercise for both dogs and humans. Retrievers tend to be at the top of the swimming pack.
6. Add mental stimulation, such as a hide-and-seek element, into your dog playtime. Border collies and other working breeds need such stimulation to stay happy.
7. Avoid walking and running on sand and hot, hard surfaces. Soft lawn grass or smooth dirt paths are better.
8. Dogs with short noses, such as bulldogs and Boston terriers, succumb to heat exhaustion more readily, since they cannot cool themselves down like other dogs can. If your dog starts acting woozy, gets a dark red-colored tongue or thick, ropy saliva, stop, move to a shaded area and offer water.
9. Take frequent breaks.
10. Don’t go on long runs or walks with puppies, since their bones are still developing. Dogs can handle longer periods out at the age of 15 months or older.
11. Don’t feed your dog right before or after intense exercise, as this could cause stomach upset or dangerous bloating and/or stomach twisting.
12. Many dogs suffer foot damage after being exposed to cold surfaces during the winter months. Limit time outdoors and also take special care that your dog does not drink from puddles, as they could be contaminated with antifreeze. Small-breed dogs may require a jacket for outdoor activities.
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