How to Care for Your Canine Athlete

By Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Do you have an athletic pooch?  Does your dog enjoy energetic bouts of heart rate and metabolism-boosting activity?  If so, then you need to take special measures to ensure that your canine athlete stays healthy and doesn’t incur injury during exercise sessions.

When it comes down to it, the potential for bodily trauma or illness to occur while being active is very real.  Responsible dog owners should plan ahead as much as possible, but unpredictable events can occur that find you making an emergency trip to the veterinary hospital.  Therefore, it’s crucial to plan ahead as much as possible to keep your pooch healthy during activity.

Why should I exercise my dog?

Exercise is crucial to provide both physical and behavioral stimulation.  When a dog isn’t given the opportunity to stretch his legs and be active, health and behavior problems can ensue.

In the U.S., pet obesity has become an epidemic. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) teamed with veterinarians to conduct the 2014 National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Survey, which determined that 52.7 percent of dogs and 57.9 percent of cats are overweight or obese. That’s almost 100,000,000 dogs and cats.  Essentially, owners are at fault for underexercising and overfeeding our pets.

Being overweight or obese predisposes your dog to many potentially irreversible health problems, including diseases of the following systems:

  • Musculoskeletal (bones, joints, connective tissues ,etc.)- arthritis, degenerative joint disease, tendon and ligament injuries, traumatic disc rupture, etc.
  • Endocrine (glandular)- hypothyroidism, diabetes, pancreatitis, etc.
  • Cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels)- high blood pressure, reduced blood circulation, etc.
  • Dermatologic (skin)- skin fold dermatitis (skin inflammation), infection (bacteria, yeast), etc.
  • Immune- cancer, immune-mediated (“autoimmune”) disease, etc.

Dogs that aren’t provided with enough activity are prone to mild to severe behavioral issues, including separation anxiety, self trauma, and depression.

Making time for every day exercise generally leads to a healthier and better socialized dog. It also lends to an improved relationship between pooch and owner by strengthening the human-animal bond.  Furthermore, owners benefit from exercising with their dogs. The PPET (People Pets Exercising Together) Study proved that owners who regularly exercised with their dog were better able to stick with their own workout plan than participants not exercising with their dogs.

What types of exercise can I do with my dog?

Your dog can participate in many of the same types of exercises that we humans do.  His ability to be active depends on his overall physical health, age, and the environment in which you live.

If you have a a puppy or a young adult Viszla, Border Collie, or high-energy mixed-breed dog, then pursuing an activity where the ability to run at full speed for sprints or long distance will fit the energetic level of your pooch.  If you own an English Bulldog, Dachshund, or other pure or mixed-breed that may not be athletically inclined or is into his senior hood or having health challenges, then walking or hiking are better options.

Pending your dog’s abilities, he may be able to walk, hike, run, swim, chase a toy or romp with his canine cohorts.

Yet, it’s crucial to make sure your pooch is healthy enough to exercise.  Ailments like arthritis, intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), hypothyroidism, kidney and liver disease, auto-immune conditions, cancer, and others can limit your a dog’s ability to be active and should be ruled out or diagnosed and treated before any exercise regimen is undertaken. Schedule an examination with your veterinarian and discuss your plan to exercise your dog before partaking in strenuous or regular bouts of activity.

What should I do to prevent illness or injury during activity?

There are many steps owners should take to prevent their canine companion from incurring illness or injury during activity.

  1. Proper restraint- Always use proper restraint to keep your pet from getting away from you and into harm’s way. Hidden or obvious dangers including toxins, snakes, cars other hazards may lurk in places your dog has access to when he’s not kept by your side through appropriate leash restraint. Avoid using an extendable lead, which doesn’t permit the same amount of control as a six-foot-or-less, non-extending leash (“flat lead”) that restricts your dog’s movement to a limited area as determined by you.
  1. Current Identification- Regardless of your choice of neck collar, a chest harness, or other, having a dog’s identification be readily determined is essential. Tags can be attached to a collar or harness which should at least give your dog’s name, your phone number, and city of residence. Whether to include your name, address, email, or other contact information is a matter of personal choice.  Tags provided by the veterinary hospital providing your dog’s rabies vaccination and from the manufacturer of your dog’s microchip create an additional layer of visual identification.

Tags, collars, and harnesses can fall off or be removed, so I recommend having your dog’s collar or harness embroidered with his name and your phone number.

Implanting a microchip into your dog and keeping your information current with the microchip’s manufacturer will increase the likelihood he returns home safely after being found by a good samaritan and taken to a shelter or veterinary hospital.

  1. Hydration and rest- Frequently hydrate your pet to prevent dehydration and hyperthermia. As only a 10% loss of the total body fluids can lead to serious illness, it’s essential that owners frequently promote hydration during exercise.

Take a break at least every 15 minutes, seek shade, and offer a clean, room temperature drink of water.   A hydrated body is less prone to suffering the effects of hyperthermia, which is a body temperature elevation above the normal range (100-102.5F) that many negative health consequences, including organ system failure, collapse, seizure, coma, and death.

Feeding your pet a fresh, moist, whole food diet made with human-grade ingredients like lean cooked meats, vegetables, fruits, and other sources of nutrition that exist like they do in nature also helps meet hydration needs so the body can perform optimally during exercise.

  1. Optimizing joint health- Dogs that are prone to arthritis due to their conformation or age and those who have suffered previous joint trauma, including surgery, can benefit from taking supplements that promote joint health. By making cartilages surfaces and joint fluid more comparable to the joints of a normal dog, the body can function better and more comfortably. Additionally, keeping joint inflammation minimized decreases the risks of exercise-related injury.

ActivPhy is great complement to any canine activity protocol, as the blue-green algae extract can have an anti-inflammatory effect like that created by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).  Other ingredients included in Activphy, like turmeric, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants also contribute to joint and whole body health.

What measures do you take to ensure your canine companion can be active as part of healthy lifestyle?

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