January 25, 2006 -- It’s no secret that exercise has a tremendous effect on our health. These days, medical professionals cannot stress enough the benefits of a regular exercise program:
• Controls weight
• Increases energy
• Improves circulation
• Enhances lung capacity
• Oxygenates blood
• Improves heart rate
• Builds strong muscles
• Increases joint mobility
• Improves your mood
• Helps with sleep
The list goes on and on…
You may not have given it much thought, but our pets reap the same benefits as we do when it comes to exercise. Not to mention, a regular exercise program can help burn nervous energy and reduce boredom for your pet, making them less likely to destroy your property. Your cat may run through the house or bat around a toy on its own, and your dog may chase a squirrel in the backyard or play with his ball. But, this is the extent of their exercise program without someone’s help. That’s why it’s up to us as their caretakers to make sure they are getting the exercise they need.
Don’t worry, you aren’t going to get any whining, lame excuses or belly aching from your pets regarding exercise. The whole process is playtime in their minds and the bond that grows between you and your pet when you increase their “playtime” will make them love you all the more.
Be sure and consult with your veterinarian before you begin. Different pets have different needs when it comes to exercise. Large dogs are going to vary from small dogs and older animals are going to vary from younger animals. Plus, the vet can give your pet a routine examination to make sure their health is good and it’s safe to proceed.
Please keep in mind, too, that if your pet isn’t use to exercising you will need to start out slow and gradually increase over time. Just like people, pets can get sore muscles and strained joints or ligaments if they overexert themselves.
Exercising Your Dog
It’s a good idea to start with a moderately paced walk or swim for dogs, giving them a chance to build strength and stamina without straining muscles. Start with 10-15 minutes a day and gradually increase time and distance as the dog gets a little more accustomed to it.
Always keep an eye out for signs of fatigue and trouble breathing -- excessive panting, rapid heart rate. And, be sure to keep plenty of water on hand. By all means, if your dog wants to stop, let him. That is a strong sign that he has had enough. Please keep in mind that most dogs love to burn energy and because of their enthusiasm and willingness to please their owner, they may not stop until it’s too late. Therefore, it’s very important to watch and know when enough is enough.
To keep things interesting, you may want to vary their forms of activity: walking, swimming, jogging, playing ball or chasing a Frisbee are great ways to keep them enthused. For a real change of pace, take your dog to the dog park to play with other dogs. He’ll not only burn lots of calories, he’ll get to socialize and make new friends, as well.
As a safety precaution, allow your dog to walk or jog on soft surfaces in the beginning. Soft or tender pads can become sore or tear under stress. Make sure nails are trimmed so they won’t hang or rip. And, always keep your dog on a leash to avoid traffic or other, more aggressive dogs.
If you exercise at night, consider a reflective collar or light on your dog, as well as a bright colored or reflective leash that is visible to passersby. Also, you’ll want to wear white or light colored clothing yourself to make sure you can be seen by others.
Exercising Your Cat
Getting your cat the exercise he needs is a little more challenging than the dog. Some cats can be trained to walk on a leash, but for most this is not a viable solution. Cats are designed different from dogs, too. Short frequent periods of intense activity are more beneficial to a cat than slower-paced exercise sessions.
There are a lot of wonderful toys you can purchase to help keep your cat active. But, before you spend a lot of money, you might look around the house. Many times, you’ll find plenty of things around the house to create hours of entertainment for your cat. Basically, cats like to climb, bat, chase, explore and scratch. So, if you work these elements into their routine, you should have some success.
Things to climb on and explore could be a kitty cat tower from the pet store or some boxes, suit cases and paper sacks. For batting practice, a shiny ball, stuffed mouse, old sock or wadded up piece of paper should do the trick. As for the chase, a string or laser pointer can work wonderfully. And, a scratching post, piece of cardboard or carpet will do for scratching.
You definitely don’t want to discourage your cat from scratching. This scratching motion will stretch and tone your cat’s shoulder muscles. But, more importantly, it will keep his claws active so that he is less inclined to shred your furniture.
For an interesting change of pace, you might consider walking or running up and down a flight of stairs or hallway with a string or rope attached to your belt loop. This will get the pulse rate up for both of you! Or, create a challenge for your cat by making him work for his dinner by putting small amounts of food on several plates and scattering them throughout the house at meal time. This will make your cat exercise in order to eat and freshen up some of those tracking skills.
Remember that exercise is every bit as vital to your pet’s health and well being as good food, clean water and shelter. A consistent exercise program will enhance your pet’s life in many ways. If your busy schedule finds you short on time, you might consider hiring a pet sitter. A pet sitter is more than happy to come out to your house and exercise your pets. They can walk or run with your dog, take him to the park or out to play ball in the back yard. They’ll even exercise and play with the cat. Your pets will absolutely love the extra attention and you’ll have peace of mind knowing that they’re getting the exercise they need.
YourPetsLife.com offers natural health solutions and wellness information to help enhance the life of your pets. The site is owned and operated by Very Important Pets, LLC. Recently voted “Best in Dallas” by D Magazine, Very Important Pets is an emerging leader in the pet care community.