Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Get Moving With Your Pets!

Pet Column for the week of March 7, 2011

Related information:

Related site - Animal Rehabilitation at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Julia Disney
Information Specialist

As the snow is melting and we begin to see glimpses of spring weather, you and your furry friends may be itching to get outdoors after being cooped up for months. Or, perhaps you are beginning to notice those extra pounds that holiday food gave you (and maybe your dog or cat).

When considering exercise for an animal, most animal owners may immediately think of the obvious choices of walking and running with a dog. Kim Knap, a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner and certified veterinary technician at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, says that there are many ways to get your pets involved in an exercise routine, something that can benefit the health of two- and four-legged creatures alike. She recommends several precautions to ensure that the new activity is safe for your pet.

Knap advises, "A routine veterinary check-up before beginning an exercise regimen is very important. Your veterinarian can run basic blood work and hormone levels to ensure that your pet doesn't have any underlying medical issues that could limit exercise."

Additionally, Knap says that your animal should be tested for heartworms, a disease spread by mosquitoes that is fatal without treatment and could be exacerbated by exercise. Your veterinarian should also check that your animal has a healthy musculoskeletal system, with no early orthopedic diseases such as hip dysplasia, as well as no neurological discrepancies.

If your pet already has medical issues or if a new issue arises, you may need to tailor an exercise routine to suit your animal's condition. If, for example, your animal has heart disease, hormonal imbalances, or arthritis, it would be important to discuss exercise with your veterinarian to understand what sort of limitations these diseases may give your pet.

Knap says that you should also take the weather and your pet's build and coloring into consideration before embarking on a work-out. Extreme heat and cold can be hard on any animal. Heat especially can be difficult for short-nosed dog breeds, such as pugs, as well as dogs with heavy coats or black hair. Plenty of breaks and water are very important components of a healthy exercise routine.

After obtaining a clean bill of health from your veterinarian, you are ready to decide what activity you'll begin. In addition to running and walking, there are a variety of games you can play with your pet. "Fetch, Frisbee, chase, and hide and seek are all great games to engage your dog in," Knap recommends. Making games like these high-energy can keep your dog interested and make once-boring exercise into something fun for both of you.

And we can't forget our feline friends — some cats are extremely playful, and might be just as interested in a game of fetch or chase as dogs. Finding a few toys that are particularly interesting to your cat could be the key to get it moving in between cat naps.

But remember to take it easy when introducing an exercise regimen. "Start off with just five minutes of exercise daily, increasing gradually based on how well you and your pet tolerate the activity," Knap advises. With a combined exercise regimen, you and your animal can work toward improved health together.

For further information on exercising with your animals, contact your local veterinarian.