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Exercise: Physical and Mental Wellbeing Is a Family Affair

Dr. Marlene Siegel, DVM

Everyone understands that exercise is important to the overall health of an individual, but many pet owners are not aware of how little exercise their fur babies are getting and the negative impact that is having on their pets’ health.

Animals in the wild (cats and dogs) roamed, hunted, played and rested. They had high intensity exercise every day when chasing their meal or fighting for their territory.

The Negative Effects of a Lack of Proper Exercise

Lack of proper exercise has a negative effect on the body, mind and spirit of pets too! Up to 50% of dogs and cats in the United States are overweight and many are obese. Overweight animals suffer from the same diseases that people do, such as diabetes, allergies, arthritis, lung and heart disease. Cancer and cognitive decline are at epidemic levels.

Obesity is directly related to excessive carbohydrate diets (eating processed dry kibble or canned foods), lack of digestive enzymes, poor gut flora, and lack of physical activity.

There is an alarming rise in behavioral issues that are a result of inadequate exercise and mental stimulation/relaxation. Pets may exhibit frustration in the form of hyperactivity, barking, digging, tail chasing, compulsive behaviors (including excessive grooming), separation anxiety, and home destruction. The main reason animals are given up to shelters are behavioral problems.

Most physically active dogs are not hyperactive or destructive and they sleep well. Active pets keep a healthier weight, have better digestion, good lymphatic movement and improved organ health. Not to mention, there is a stronger, more rewarding bond between pets and pet parents when they exercise together.

The right amount and type of exercise depends on your pet’s age, breed, physical condition and your abilities. Using the same principles as for yourself, if your pet has not been active or is overweight, have a veterinarian perform a thorough physical exam, possibly blood work and X-rays, to rule out underlying health challenges such as osteoarthritis, liver or kidney disorders.

Use Common Sense

Start gradually and build strength and endurance. Slow and steady is safer and more enjoyable. “No pain no gain” does NOT apply to your pet!

Dog Exercise

Avoid exercise in the hottest part of the day. Stay off hot pavement (it can burn their pads) and provide plenty of water. There are special shoes made for dogs, like Muttluks® dog boots (www.muttluks.com) to protect their feet.

For dogs that enjoy water, swimming is awesome. Take precautions to avoid swimming in strong currents, and if in a pool, teach the pet how to get out on their own. There are life vests for pets too! Professional tip, use a drying agent in the ears after swimming to reduce the risk of ear infections.

Other activities may include:

  • Walking.
  • Running.
  • Biking. (It’s helpful to attach a special device which attaches to the bicycle, such as the Springer® bike attachment – which has a coil spring designed to absorb and reduce the force of the dog’s sudden tugs, helping the rider keep balance and preventing the dog from pulling the bike over.)
  • Agility training. This is great for giving smart dogs lots of mental challenges.
  • Clicker training which is also great for mental challenges.
  • Playing fetch. Toys (balls or frisbees) are fun, especially when they actually bring it back!
  • Playing with Boomer Balls® and Best Balls®, which are made for soccer-style play.
  • Using laser lights to play tag.
  • Chasing bubbles.
  • Going to dog parks.
  • Using mind toys, including KONG toys® and Busy Buddies® (food stuffed and the pet has to get to the food).

They Don’t Want to Move vs It Hurts to Move

Not all animals limp or vocalize when in pain. Wanting shorter walks, not engaging with the family, and decreasing their overall activity all may be signs your pet is experiencing discomfort. It is important to have a veterinary evaluation with X-rays and blood work (including testing for cancer, inflammation and osteoarthritis). Don’t just “assume” it is arthritis. Cancer may present as pain or limping.

Heat Exhaustion (Hyperthermia) & Heat Stroke

Dogs eliminate body heat by panting. Though they have some sweat glands in the footpads which help with heat dissipation, it is only minimally effective. When panting isn’t enough, their body temperature rises. This can be fatal if not corrected quickly. Their core temperature should remain under 103°F (normal resting core temperature is 100°F – 102°F). Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are dangers to avoid. Keep a thermometer in your pet bag just in case. Signs of heat exhaustion can include: excessive panting, excessive drooling, red gums, ataxia, vomiting, diarrhea and seizures. Early intervention is critical to prevent organ damage. Cool them with water, alcohol spray on the skin, or ice packs until the temperature is below 104°F and the symptoms have resolved. It is always recommended to seek veterinary care as soon as possible.

Cat Exercise

As predators, cats naturally sleep a lot, but they have bursts of activity. They are more like sprinters, not marathon runners. In the wild, they hunted for food and fought off other predators.

Cat owners with strictly indoor kitties tend to assume cats are lazy and don’t need to exercise, but this is absolutely not true! They actually need more environmental enrichment to stimulate them to move.

In the wild, the act of hunting was the preparation for good digestion. Playing laser tag or fishing toy games before feeding your cat will improve their digestion!

The best interactive games for pet parents and fur children involve feline agility training! This gives kitty mental and physical activity and strengthens the pet parent bond as you play with them. There are many videos online teaching feline agility.

Climbing posts, perching posts, and scratching posts offer a little enticement but not a lot of movement. Interactive toys, where a small meal of freeze-dried raw food is stuffed inside, requiring the cat to roll and manipulate the toy to get the food, works well for food motivated cats.

An Internet search will reveal MANY fun game choices. Experiment and see what your kitty likes! Some of my cats’ favorites are feather wands, kitty “fishing poles” and laser lights. Try to hide freeze-dried raw food around the house (remember where you put it!) to stimulate the hunting drive. Or throw freeze dried raw food pieces for your kitty to pounce and chase. Though most cats fail at “fetch and return”, if started early they may enjoy batting around a ping pong ball or wadded-up paper balls.

For food motivated cats, walking around holding their food bowl while getting them to follow you gets them moving!

IPad games for cats can be hysterical to watch! There is a moving fish game in which the cat tries to hold down the moving fish with their feet. This is great mental stimulation, but try and hard wire the iPad to limit the EMF exposure.

The one game I discourage is getting kitty to attack your hand under the sheets. It is NOT fun to be sleeping and have a kitty attack your foot or hand!

For Pets with Osteoarthritis

Animals with osteoarthritis can enjoy quality of life by improving lifestyle factors. Feed a species appropriate diet with the proper essential nutrients (vitamins, minerals, parent essential fatty acids), filtered structured hydrogen water, joint supplements, herbal supplements, dimethylglycine and modified citrus pectin to reduce inflammation (visit evolovestore.com for specific pet products). Therapies that are effective include routine chiropractic and acupuncture, ozone and laser therapy, full spectrum InfraRed therapy, frequencies, PEMF and hyperbaric oxygen. These are AMAZING things to offer fur babies.

Exercise alone doesn’t make us or our pets healthy, but in combination with proper diet, digestive support, a greener environment, and high vibration thoughts, we all can live a longer, more vibrant and abundant life!

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