With much of this year's record winter hopefully in the books, many are turning their thoughts to the return of fair weather outdoor activities. For dog-lovers, this means not only getting themselves back in shape but also their canine friends as well. Just like humans, dogs can become stiff and overweight without the benefit of regular exercise, especially during the holidays and the short, cold days that surround them. Also similar to people, these pooches can injure themselves if not eased back into frequent activity. Managing this process is essential as dogs rarely know their limits and can easily overdo it from the outset. Such oversight is doubly important if a pet is older, overweight or suffers from soft tissue issues of the joints or spine.
While not essential, consulting with your veterinarian is a good place to start. Of course, if your pet has any of the pre-existing conditions mentioned above, this is a must. For overweight or obese dogs, this would include the incorporation of a diet for weight loss and increased activity. The next step is to make a plan based upon what fitness goals you have for your dog. Strenuous activities, such as trail running, ocean swimming and dock-jumping, require significantly more training and recovery time than the basics like walking, jogging and frisbee or ball play. For sedentary dogs, a gradually-increasing walking routine would then be implemented. Begin with one short (10 min.) walk per day, working up to two 20 min. sessions over the course of the first week or two. Be sure to watch for signs of fatigue or stress, such as excessive panting, lagging or an inability to match your pace. The appearance of any of these indicates the need for a shorter, less strenuous trip next time.
Once your canine companion reaches this basic level of fitness, more advanced activities can be slowly introduced in the same manner. If, however, your dog is still significantly overweight, be careful! In addition to the strain heavy exercise places on the obese animal's cardiovascular system, it also can cause serious injuries such as torn knee ligaments (usually the ACL), joint fatigue and various back issues. In this case, moderate exercise and diet should be used to reduce unwanted weight before taking your pup's exercise regimen to the next level.
While these recommendations are by no means comprehensive, they represent a good place to start. Whether dealing with an out-of-shape person or dog, it's best to err on the side of caution. Your body - as well as your dog's - will thank you!
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