No healthy person—one who gets regular physical exercise and mental stimulation—would ever choose to give up that lifestyle and become a couch potato. Why? Because the lifestyle benefits are one hundred percent worth it. The same holds true for dogs and cats!
What Are the Benefits of Exercising Your Pet?
Combined with a complete and balanced diet, exercise can help:
- Keep pets lean
- Improve pets’ joint health
- Enhance pets’ cardiovascular health
- Prevent medical conditions associated with obesity in pets
- Supply pets with a healthy outlet for excess energy
- Reduce pets’ undesirable behaviours, such as excessive barking, whining, digging, scratching, or destroying items in the home
- Improve pets’ quality of sleep
For you, the benefits of exercising with pets can include:
- Spending quality time building and enhancing your bond.
- Having an exercise buddy to motivate you to get off the sofa and get moving.
- Improving your own physical fitness and cardiovascular health.
- Boosting your mood.
- Decreasing your stress.
- Lowering your blood pressure.
How Do You Get Started Exercising Your Pet?
The answer to that question depends on your pet’s current health status, body condition, and age. In general, you’ll want to start off slowly and increase the duration and intensity of activity over time.
Some pets need special considerations for exercise. Puppies, for example, with growing bones (up to 18 months depending on breed) should generally avoid high impact activities like jumping to catch a frisbee, jumping or hurdling over objects, or performing any movement that involves their legs twisting, such as navigating weave poles in agility. High impact activities risk damaging bone growth plates and potentially affecting bone growth and joint health.
Ask our veterinary team what types of exercise are appropriate for:
- Senior dogs and cats
- Brachycephalic or short-nosed breeds (such as Himalayans, Persians, Pugs, and Boston Terriers)
- Pets with short legs or long backs (like Basset Hounds, Corgis, and Dachshunds)
- Large or heavy-bodied dogs (including bully breeds like American Staffordshire Terriers and Bulldogs)
- Pets with certain medical conditions (I.e., respiratory problems, obesity, and osteoarthritis or other mobility issues)
What Type of Exercise Is Best for Your Pet?
Exercise for Dogs
Walking remains a mainstay of fitness for dogs. It’s easy, doesn’t require much equipment (collar and/or harness and leash), and you and your pet can gain all the benefits from this low-impact activity. To get started walking your dog for exercise, try:
- Building up the time and distance, working up to walking 30 minutes a day or longer (unless your veterinarian recommends a different schedule); for puppies or seniors, this amount of time may need to be divided into two or three sessions, rather than one long walk.
- Increasing your pace in brief intervals or throughout the walk (if your pet has become comfortable with that duration of intensity).
- Walking in new areas.
- Walking uphill/downhill for part of the time.
Other fun ideas for exercising your dog include:
- Playing fetch in your home, yard, or a park. (You can move around too, rather than standing in one place to throw the ball or toy.)
- Going for a hike together.
- Jogging on grass or a dirt nature trail (easier on the joints than concrete).
- Playing with a flirt pole (especially for dogs with a strong prey drive); ask us for tips on how to do this safely.
- Hiding some or all your dog’s kibble throughout your home so your pet must search for meals (while making sure your pet finds all the kibble and is getting the right amount of food daily).
- Using food puzzles to encourage your dog to work for meals or treats.
Letting your dog play with other dogs at a dog park or doggie day care can also be a great way to help your pup get exercise and mental stimulation, especially if your time is limited on certain days. That said, it’s best not to rely only as their only source or exercise as there will be times when your dog can’t interact with other dogs (i.e., illness, travel).
Exercise for Cats
Cats are built to engage in short bursts of activity rather than long exercise sessions. Consider encouraging your cat to get moving by:
- Introducing interactive toys like food puzzles that encourage your cat to bat, roll, or chase them. Ask us for our favourite options!
- Hiding part of your cat’s daily food ration in unusual locations in your home so your cat must hunt for their meals; just be sure to note where you hid the food in case your cat doesn’t find all the hiding spots.
- Playing with wand or fishing-pole toys can be a fantastic incentive for many cats who enjoy chasing their “prey”. (Remember to put these toys away when you aren’t there to supervise.)
- Providing toys that move on their own (such as battery-operated mice; just make sure your cat can’t get the batteries out).
- Adding a sturdy climbing tree in an area where your cat spends a lot of time.
- Providing scratching posts and/or pads in different areas around your home.
- Teaching your cat to walk on leash. (Some cats may enjoy this activity, if you build up to it).
If possible, aim to play with your cat two to three times a day for 5- or 10-minute sessions each time.
For extra mental stimulation, consider giving your cat a safe view of the outdoors by providing a window cat perch near a safely secured window or even creating a catio.
The best exercise for your dog or cat depends on what physical activities they enjoy doing.
How Can We Help?
Our veterinary team can give your pet the all-clear for a regular exercise routine by ruling out underlying health concerns. Your veterinarian can also help you figure out what activities might be most appropriate for your individual pet and even create a personalized exercise program that will work for both of you.
Down with couch potatoes, up with exercise! Give us a call today for more ideas on providing physical and mental stimulation for your pet.