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Old November 5th, 2003, 01:54 PM
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Include pet in exercise routine

BY DR. TRACY ACOSTA
Knight Ridder Newspapers

(KRT) - Thankfully, cooler temperatures have finally arrived. There is nothing better than the beautiful cool weather that the fall season brings. After the "dog days of summer," no pun intended (yes it is!), many are inspired to take full advantage of the season to head outdoors for some activity and exercise. So, why not include your pet as your renewed exercise spirit is in full swing. Besides, don't forget the holiday season of feasting is fast approaching.

Just as with us, our pets can benefit in many ways from physical activity. For starters, exercise can greatly enhance the physical and mental well-being of your pets. Yes, I stated mental health.

For many active dog breeds, such as the sporting groups and the terrier groups, exercise is an absolute necessity to a happy life. For example, no retriever can live a satisfied life without participating in regular games of fetch until its owner's arm absolutely can no longer throw the ball or training dummy one more time - one more reason why it is critical to choose the right breed that fits your lifestyle.

The more active breeds, if not properly and regularly exercised, become bored and frustrated, which can cause them to exhibit bad behaviors such as digging, excessive barking and destructive chewing.

For optimum physical health, some sort of exercise should be incorporated into your dog's routine. Constantly, we are reminded by the media of the endless reports of a dramatic increase in obesity and diabetes in the United States human population.

I am sorry to report this trend also is occurring in our pets. In fact, obesity is the most common nutritional problem seen by small animal veterinarians, affecting about one out of every four pets. Just as in humans, obesity can lead to serious life-threatening medical conditions and should be taken seriously by all pet owners.

Another benefit of exercising with your pet is the strengthening of the human-animal bond. The time you spend is an investment in the unconditional love and loyalty that you get in return. In fact, humans can benefit just as much as the family pet through exercising together. What better way to stay in shape yourself and to de-stress after a long day at work than to go for a walk or run with an exercise partner who rarely, if ever, complains. If you make that type of obligation to your pet to exercise regularly, it can definitely be an incentive to not be lazy yourself.

With your pets, just as with us, it is important to choose exercise activities that suit their particular capabilities, endurance levels and health classifications. Consult with your veterinarian about the type of exercise that is safe and adequate for your pet, especially if your pet already has some pre-existing health concerns or is older.

Start off slowly with exercise to allow your pet's body to adjust to vigorous activity that it may not be used to. Even those dog breeds known for endurance should be trained slowly. If ever during an exercise activity, your dog seems slow or less enthusiastic, use common sense and immediately stop for the day. Of course, pay attention to the weather and avoid exercising during weather extremes.

Some popular forms of exercise include walking, running, swimming, biking, fetching and agility training. Be sure to use appropriate collars or harnesses that are comfortable for each activity. When relevant, use a leash in order to prevent accidents involving cars or other animals. It is important for your dog to stay well hydrated with any type of exercise, so be sure to bring enough water for both of you.

Always make sure that your dog's paws are not subjected to any harmful terrain. If in doubt, provide protection for their paws by using protective sprays or booties.

I hope you are now inspired to get out there with your pets to exercise.

(Dr. Tracy Acosta is a veterinarian at Biloxi (Miss.) Animal Hospital.
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