The health benefits associated with exercise are well-documented. The good news is that exercising with our four-legged friends has benefits for both. As well as the obvious cardiovascular, fitness and weight improvements, being active with our dogs can also have social and mental health benefits. Walking your dog is a great way to clear your head of the worries of the day, and enjoy the company of others. It also provides mental stimulation for your dog and can help to reduce the incidence of nuisance behaviours.

 

Morning walks with my Golden Retriever, Riley, are something of ritual. I truly enjoy exercising and being outdoors, so walking Riley is always a special time of the day for me. Whether you take your dog for a jog, a walk, off-leash play or a game of fetch, the benefits are clear.  Optimum exercise requirements can vary according to the age, size and breed of dog, as well as the time of the year. Following are my tips to help you and your pet enjoy safe exercise together.

Young dogs

Exercise is great for energetic pups, but sustained jogging or running is not recommended for young dogs (under 18 months) whose bones haven’t finished growing.

Older dogs

Osteoarthritis can cause pain and lameness after strenuous exercise, so be sure to check that your older dog’s joints can manage the type of exercise you’re planning.

Large dogs

Are more prone to cruciate ligament injuries, arthritis and hip dysplasia. Sustained jogging can be hard on their joints and bones, so if you’ve got a large dog, make sure they’re well-conditioned before you start jogging together.

Short nosed breeds

Brachycephalic breeds, such as bulldogs and pugs, have short airways and can have trouble breathing when exercising vigorously. So, proceed with caution, especially in warmer climates.

Take extra care on very hot days

Exercise your dog in the early morning or evening, and avoid exercising during the harshest heat of the day. Be aware that pavements can also get extremely hot and burn your pet’s feet.

Avoid heatstroke

Dogs can overheat after too much exercise and over exertion, which can result in heatstroke – a very serious condition caused by a marked elevation in body temperature. Short nosed breeds are particularly susceptible, special care must be taken to prevent these dogs from overheating during summer.

Signs of heatstroke

Watch for a combination of elevated body temperature, quick and persistent panting, looking stressed and agitated, vomiting and diarrhoea, weakness and muscle tremors, bluish purple or bright red gums, and collapsing or seizures.

Treating heatstroke

If you suspect that your dog is suffering from heatstroke you should try to cool them down and get them to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Offer cool water and wet their coat with a cool shower or hose (not ice). Cover them with a cool wet towel during transport and turn the car’s air conditioning up to maximum.

Exercising in Winter

Just because Winter days are shorter and colder doesn’t mean you should give up on exercise. Most dogs need regular exercise and will benefit from mental stimulation. Try playing indoor games or organise doggy playdates at home. Don’t be afraid to get out and walk in Winter – consider a jacket for thin coated breeds like greyhounds and whippets. If you have a long-coated dog keep a towel handy at home to dry them off on those dewy Winter mornings.

Written by Dr Katrina Warren