Why is it important?
Obesity is a real threat to dogs (and people!) in the UK, and how better to manage it that with a fitness programme! But do you know how much exercise your dog needs? How should you modify it if they're old, or ill, or very young? In this guide, we'll talk you through the details of best to exercise your best friend.
Why do dogs have to exercise?
Dogs need exercise to build and maintain muscle mass, cardiovascular fitness, and to reduce (or at least control) the amount of fat they're carrying around. In addition, exercise will strengthen bone, ligaments and other parts of the musculoskeletal system. A fitter dog is a healthier dog, and is likely to cost you less in vets bills (!), and they will also be a happier dog if they're getting out and about rather than being cooped up indoors all day long.
Are there any downsides or risks?
Well, excessive exercise (especially in an unfit dog) can be harmful - although it is unlikely to lead to a heart attack, it can result in musculoskeletal damage. In particular, we see muscle tears, strains and sprains much more commonly in unfit, overexercised dogs. Usually these are relatively minor, but torn ligaments and tendons can also occur which take much, much longer to heal. So, you'll have to carefully calibrate how much exercise you give your dog, and how hard you work them. To work this out, there are several factors you need to take into account...
How does breed impact exercise requirements?
Some dogs need more exercise than others - Setters, collies and Spaniels, for instance, need much more activity (to keep them sane if nothing else!) than Greyhounds (for whom a "mad half hour" once a day is usually sufficient). Some dogs, like Labradors, are mentally happy with very little exercise, but need to be encouraged to do more; and others (like Jack Russell Terriers and Chihuahuas) tend to be underexercised (just because they have short legs doesn't mean they don't need as much exercise time as other dogs- it just means they won't cover as much distance in that time!).
How does existing fitness impact exercise requirements?
An unfit animal should have a gradually increasing exercise programme, rather than starting cold and doing too much. Likewise, a very fit dog will need more exercise to maintain that fitness.
How does age impact exercise requirements?
In general, a young dog needs more exercise than an older one, although there are of course exceptions.
Is personality a factor too?
some dogs love exercise, some not so much! Ironically, the dogs with a tendency to laziness probably need to be given more organised exercise, as they won't do it themselves...
What about health?
You will need to take into account any disease conditions they may have. For example, a dog with heart or lung disease may require controlled exercise; and a dog with arthritis needs little-and-often to keep their joints supple. If in doubt, ask your vet what a sensible level of exercise would be.
How hard should they be working?
How hard you exercise your dog is also a bit of a debate - madly running around and chasing toys burns more calories than a gently bimble in the park, but also puts more strain on joints, ligaments and muscles. Overall, a mixture of fast and slow work is probably best for most dogs.
As a bare minimum, almost every dog needs 30 minutes of exercise per day - and some need a LOT more!