Brooke Nicholls Nelson: Exercise, nutrition as important for pets as owners
Sep 15, 2013 | 4170 views |  0 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Labradors Hoover, 11, and Tex, 15, follow 7-year-old Fudge on a run in the woods by their house. Submitted photo
Labradors Hoover, 11, and Tex, 15, follow 7-year-old Fudge on a run in the woods by their house. Submitted photo
The country’s obesity problem is as serious for four-legged animals as it is for two-legged ones. The same medical issues that plague overweight humans — heart problems, diabetes, cancer, joint problems — are prevalent in overweight pets, as well.

So, what’s a pet to do? My veterinarian husband says he has yet to hear of a dog who can open up the fridge and fix his own food. Translation: It’s the owner’s fault when a pet is overweight. You, the owner, have sole control over what goes in your pet’s mouth. Overfeeding pets, or feeding them table scraps and high-calorie treats, is not responsible pet ownership and can lead to serious health issues down the road.

Just like humans, each pet’s metabolism is different. I have two older Labradors, 11-year-old Hoover and 15-year-old Tex, and one younger one, Fudge, who is 7. Tex, the oldest of the bunch, is prone to gaining weight. I can feed all three the exact same amount of the exact same food, but only Tex gains weight. So he is on a lower-calorie diet than the other two.

As a pet owner, it’s my responsibility to exercise my three dogs and to monitor their nutrition. All three of my dogs love long walks and swimming in the lake by our house. After walking, I often take the younger one on a run. It’s good for them and good for me.

The physical benefits of exercise are extremely important, but the behavioral benefits are just as valuable. I feel so much better after a hard workout, and so do my dogs. Dogs are just naturally active — always running and chasing things, looking for something to get into.

If that need is not fed with positive outlets, dogs will find another way to fill it, and this can spell trouble in the form of digging, chewing, hyperactivity and barking. A set exercise routine can keep bad behaviors from ever starting. It’s important to start pet exercise at an early age so that it becomes a habit, something both you and your pet can look forward to each day.

What type of exercise is advisable? It depends on your pet’s breed, age and current fitness level. Check with your veterinarian to make sure the fitness outlet you choose is appropriate for your pet.

Generally, young dogs and puppies need short distance walks or short burst exercises like chasing balls or Frisbees for brief time periods. Dogs grow quickly, and it’s easy to add time and difficulty to workouts as pets age.

Heat is always an issue when exercising a pet. Some breeds are more prone to overheating and breathing problems, so be aware of your pet’s specific needs. Take frequent water breaks, or find a route near a lake or stream, and let them get in a swim at the same time.

As your pet’s fitness level increases, so will yours. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, dog owners spend twice as much time walking per week as non-dog owners — our pets motivate us to be more active.

You may find that 10-minute walk needs to be extended to a walk-jog program. Better yet, choose a goal, like a pet-friendly 5K, to motivate you even more.

Make your pets’ health a priority and you won’t just increase their life expectancy and lower the risk of medical issues, you’ll also find the bond between you is stronger than ever.
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