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K-State Today

April 17, 2012



It's a dog's life: To make it better, university veterinarian says add exercise to canine's daily routine

By Communications and Marketing

Humans aren't the only ones who can benefit from daily exercise. A Kansas State University veterinarian says dogs need it, too.

"Dogs should get exercise at least twice a day, generally around 15 to 20 minutes each session for small dogs and 30 to 40 minutes or more for large dogs," said Susan Nelson, clinical associate professor at the university's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, a part of the College of Veterinary Medicine.

However, how long and the type of exercise depend on the type of dog, its age and its health, Nelson said.

"It really depends on what the dog can do," she said. "For short-legged or arthritic dogs, walking is good. Running is good for dogs that are bigger and are in good shape, but how much running to do depends on the dog and how in shape it is. Remember, you can't run a basset hound like you would a Great Dane."

Choosing the type of exercise for your dog depends on how fit it is and if it has any health conditions that limit its activity level. For example, running and jumping aren't good for a dog with arthritis. Waking and hiking are good low-impact activities. Swimming can be good for many dogs, especially those who have joint mobility problems -- but make sure the dog knows how to swim first, Nelson said.

In general, Nelson said small dogs can walk up to a mile or two, while large dogs may be able to handle three or more miles of walking or running.

Just letting a dog out to play on its own in a fenced-in yard isn't good enough. The dog should be kept active while exercising, so playing a game of fetch with a ball or flying disc are good forms of exercise, Nelson said.

While getting your dog active is good, Nelson said it's also important to make sure your canine friend isn't overdoing it.

"Some signs to look for include an obvious limp, if they are tugging on their leash and don't want to go forward, or if they start to lag behind," she said. "As the weather gets warmer, watch out for overheating your dog. Signs include panting really hard; producing thick, ropey saliva; and getting a dark, red tongue. Taking water breaks along the way is a good idea."

If your dog gets weak, collapses or seems to struggle while exercising in warm weather, it's important to get them cooled off and to a veterinarian quickly, Nelson said.

Once temperatures climb into the 80s, Nelson said monitor your dog closely when exercising and consider switching your sessions to early morning and evening when temperatures are cooler. For some dogs even temperatures in the 70s can be hazardous to their health.

"Don't forget about humidity levels in the heat, too," she said. "High humidity can make it tough for dogs to breathe and they can't get proper cooling through panting. This is especially true for dogs with short, stubby noses like boxers and bulldogs."

Nelson said dogs with these types of noses can have a hard time moving air in and out, and the tissues in their throats can start to swell when they have to pant a lot.

"It is a vicious cycle that can lead to overheating because they just can't pant as effectively as dogs with longer noses," she said. "Very young and very old dogs also don't have a high tolerance for the heat."

Heat can be hard on a dog's feet, too, Nelson said.

"As the weather gets warmer, pavement and asphalt can get hot and burn the pads on their feet," she said. "Gravel can be a painful surface, too, especially if they aren't used to running on it. Many dogs will develop severe injuries to their pads if they aren't conditioned to run on rough surfaces."

Another concern at this time of year are fleas and ticks, so make sure your dog is protected against them before heading outside.

If your dog did fine on its walk or run but woke up stiff or lame afterward, Nelson recommends having a veterinarian check it out to ensure it's not something exercise will continue to aggravate.

Scheduling a physical with a veterinarian is a good first step before starting an exercise routine for your dog, Nelson said, especially if the dog is overweight or has had a sedentary lifestyle.

"You want to make sure your dog is ready to exercise. You may have to start slow to build up their endurance," she said. "But once you get started, it can be fun. For example, you can get creative and set up things for your dog to find along the way -- search activities. The important thing is to get them up and going."