Medical reasons why your dog should exercise

Is your dog a couch potato, or does he drive you crazy at times by tearing the furniture apart or display other strange behaviour? It can be that your dog is just under exercised and bored and is trying to get some stimulation from another source. Don’t ignore this kind of behaviour – he is trying to tell you something.

Does my dog need exercise?

No animal can thrive without exercise. Most dog breeds were originally developed to work and have a specific function. For example, Jack Russell Terriers were bred to hunt foxes, Australian Shepherds for herding livestock and Siberian Huskies for dog sledding. These dogs were bred for speed and endurance and come hardwired with endless energy to perform their jobs. Just because many of these working breeds now live more domesticated lives as pets, it doesn’t mean their energy or need for mental stimulation has waned.

Many dogs now live on smaller properties and no longer have to perform a specific job like herding or hunting. As their primary caregivers, it is important for us to meet their need for exercise, which will ensure their health and wellbeing.

Benefits

There are two benefits to ensuring our pets get enough exercise: it not only helps our four-legged friends to maintain a healthy weight, but also challenges and stimulates their mental needs.

  1. The physical benefits

Regular exercise helps to build and maintain their muscle mass, keep bones strong and joints supple and flexible, which is especially important as they age. It also improves their cardiovascular health and increases their circulation, lowering the risk of certain heart conditions. As with humans, regular exercise is also good for dogs’ insulin levels as it makes their bodies more sensitive to insulin, thus lowering their blood sugar. This plays an important role in both preventing and controlling diabetes in dogs.

  1. The mental benefits

While going for a walk may increase their heart rate and get their muscles moving, it also stimulates dogs mentally to see new surroundings, smell new smells and see other people and their dogs. The mental stimulation provided by regular walks is equally important to the overall wellbeing of our pets. The working breeds will need more mental stimulation and vigorous play to compensate for their lack of a job. Obedience training, agility trials, or even basic tricks can be a good substitute if these dog breeds are in a domestic setting rather than on a farm, in a field, or on a snowy mountain. They need something challenging to do.

What happens when a dog’s exercise needs aren’t met?

Some owners may find it strange to think about looking after a dog’s mental health, but dogs that are not given consistent exercise and stimulation are significantly more prone to unwanted behaviour. These behaviours include excessive scratching and digging, unwanted climbing on furniture, fence running and inappropriate mounting. Dogs that are kept indoors and not given sufficient stimulation are also more likely to become neurotic barkers in an attempt to communicate with other dogs in the vicinity.

Research your dog’s needs 

All dogs are different and their type and level of exercise should be based on their breed, age, weigh  and general health. As dogs age, the frequency and level of intensity of the exercise they need decreases as well.

Ideally, all dogs should get daily exercise – not simply running around aimlessly in the yard, but proactively walked or played with. Research your dog breed, assess their energy requirements, and form an exercise routine that suits their individual needs.

By Dr Abby Warren, Greenside Animal Hospital

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