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Exercise Tips For Your Pets

Posted In: Behavior & Training, Feline Health & Wellness, Canine Health & Wellness

Most pet owners know that their pet needs some form of regular exercise to stay healthy, mobile, and prevent disease- but the way you exercise with your pet could be doing more harm than good! One common exercise in particular that can have serious consequences to your pet’s health is ball-catching. Not only can the activity be dangerous for the dog’s limbs, especially the ligaments in the toes, wrists and knees, but if the ball is bouncing off in unpredictable directions we are also risking injuries to other parts of the body (bones, ligaments, joints and muscles).

THE BRAIN: Repetitive ball-catching can lead to prolonged adrenaline release. Cortisol release can lead to frustration, frantic behaviors, and can even be detrimental to long-term health. A high-drive dog with significant joint disease may continue to perform reward-based tasks like ball-chasing, despite the pain.

THE JOINTS: Repeated micro-trauma to muscles and cartilage is a cause of long-term damage. Chasing or even carrying items like a ball can shift your dog’s weight distribution to their front legs, putting excessive weight through the joints of the front legs. Joints weakened by arthritis will be especially prone to further damage.

THE MUSCLES: Unpredictable actions such as braking, twisting, and landing can result in muscles being put under stresses they aren’t designed for. High speeds can double the forces generated in the muscles. Braking is thought to be the most dangerous part of ball-chasing and is often the cause of shoulder injuries.

SO WHAT CAN I DO INSTEAD? Make sure to have a short warm-up period before more intense exercise. Only ever throw the ball a short distance on surfaces that avoid slipping and sliding. Throw below waist height so as to avoid jumping, and don’t do it repetitively. Consider alternatives like tugging games, scent work, varying location of the walk to keep things exciting, or playing hide and seek with the ball rather than playing fetch.

Playing tug with dogs is a great interactive game, and it helps them to build a much stronger bond with us compared with tossing toys. Figure out what kind of tugging toys they like, and what kind of tugging game they prefer - more soft and careful, or perhaps more wild, long toys, fluffy toys, the variations are almost unlimited.

You might also consider trying scent games. You will be amazed by how powerful a “weapon” a dog’s nose can be! Scent work is a fun way to give your dog mental stimulation and you might be surprised by how quickly it can actually tire your dog. Toss some treats in the grass and let your dog sniff them out, or teach them to find a favourite toy (this can be a better way to put your beloved ball in use again!).
if you want to take scent work to another level, you can also teach your dog to find certain smells, your personal items you accidentally “toss” somewhere in the area (a glove or a hat, for example), or even other people. If you have company on your walks, you can ask a friend to go hide and let your dog find them!

Also keep in mind that each dog is different, and some dogs appear to be more or less careful than others when playing different games. In any case, sufficient warming up should be provided before any exercising (gradual increase in activity over 5 or 10 min), and cool down after (again a gradual decrease in activity over  5-10 min). And, keep activities adapted to your dog’s abilities. However, even if some dogs are able to do something, it doesn’t always mean they should.

The Animal Medical Center of Mid-America has veterinarians at three locations that can answer questions about your pet’s health. Call 314-951-1534 or click here to request an appointment online.