SHAPE UP WITH YOUR PET THIS YEAR
The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) asks that you also start your pet on an exercise routine. Dogs, and even cats, need exercise too; and there's no better time for both of you to start than now.
Many dogs are weekend athletes. After a long week, it's their chance to get out and burn off energy. Because of their enthusiasm, many of the popular breeds such as Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers, will overdo it. Unfortunately, veterinarians find that weekend warriors suffer more orthopedic injuries.
"The most common athletic injury is the rupture of ligaments in the knee joints, similar to what skiers and basketball players experience," says Columbia Animal Hospital veterinarian, Dr. David Tayman. "This is caused by sudden twists or sharp change in direction often from playing Frisbee or catch."
"Field trial dogs, like Black Labs, Yellow Labs, and Golden Retrievers, usually have a lot of energy and big attitudes," says Dr. Tayman. "Plus, some of these dogs have degenerative joint disease such as hip dysplasia and elbow problems. Too much exercise too young may contribute to arthritis."
Dr. Tayman advises owners to be more careful with animals that have more drive and will. Avoid the type of activity that encourages turning abruptly and landing; and offer more opportunities to walk, run, or even swim.
The Columbia Animal Hospital staff recommends starting younger and middle-aged dogs on a moderate program of walking 10 to 15 minutes once or twice a day, and stepping it up to one hour a day as time permits. If you're too busy to walk your dog every day, hire a high school student, a 4-H member, a pet-sitter, or senior volunteer to do it for you.
"Running is good exercise too, but its hard on the animals who run five miles on concrete," says Dr. Tayman. "Take your dog on a hiking trail or other soft surface to run." And remember not to overdo it in the beginning. A novice runner wouldn't run five miles the first day out. So don't expect that of your pet.
If you're starting an exercise program for an older dog, consider having him examined by a veterinarian first. Your pet's doctor will look at his health history, listen to his heart, check for weight gain, and possibly do blood work.
Toy dogs, like Maltese and Chihuahuas, that usually don't go for strenuous activity can be trained to be outdoor dogs, said Dr. Tayman. An there may be hope for that fat cat who just sits on your lap. Try changing the cat's diet to one that's calorie restricted, and introduce some physical activity such as playing with string or chasing the cat up stairs.
Weight problems often go hand-in-hand with inactive lifestyles. Carrying a heavier load can increase the likelihood of tearing ligaments and wearing down joints. When that happens, an animal won't want to exercise which further adds to the weight problem. This is especially a problem with older dogs.
Dr. Tayman suggests starting an overweight dog on a 15-minute walk once a day and decrease the amount of food. Diet is important so don't feed table scraps and extras.
Your pet doesn't have to eat a lot of holiday treats to begin an exercise program. So start the year off right with an exercise routine that will make the year healthier and brighter for both of you.