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With more than a third of dog owners (36 percent) admitting their dogs are overweight, the importance of getting out and about every day with your four-legged friend shouldn’t be underestimated. We catch up with TV vet Steve Leonard to find out why regular walks are so important for happy, healthy dogs.
Regular exercise - at least half an hour a day or up to two hours a day for larger breeds - is key to your dog’s physical and mental wellbeing. Muscles and joints can deteriorate if not used regularly, which can lead to injuries that are slow to recover. Regular exercise also burns fat which helps to combat obesity and improve cardiac and respiratory function.
Walking is also really important for your dog’s mental health, and can improve behavioural problems such as frustration, boredom and hyper-activity. For dogs with a habit of scratching the carpet or destroying your favourite slippers, you may find increasing your walks will help curb this behaviour!
Starting young is very important to aid the development of your dog’s joints and muscles, which can help prevent arthritis. On the flip side, it’s also important not to do too much too soon, as their muscles may not have developed sufficiently to stabilise their joints. It’s about finding the right balance for your dog’s size and breed. You can look up your dog breed’s recommended walk time on The Kennel Club website, click here. If in doubt, ask your vet.
If your dog hasn’t been used to regular exercise, it’s important to build up activity gradually to avoid injury. Dogs with a limp, or stiff joints, may need some pain relief to help with exercise - speak to your vet for advice on how to manage this. Non-load bearing exercises such as swimming or hydrotherapy may be better for dogs with sore joints.
It may also be surprising to learn that dogs with arthritis benefit hugely from shorter, more frequent walks of around 15 minutes, 5-6 times daily. Frequent, gentle activity can help strengthen joints and reduce stiffness, whilst longer, more infrequent walks may result in more stiffness and pain the following day.
It’s important to gradually increase walking times and to maintain consistency. If your dog appears breathless while exercising, this may be due to heart or respiratory disorders. It’s best to get your vet to check this out and advise on the safest ways for your dog to exercise.
A healthy diet is essential to allow a dog to lead a happy and active lifestyle. Overfeeding can result in obesity, and exercise alone is unlikely to keep weight management in order. Dogs that eat well and maintain an optimum weight will have more energy and are more likely to get excited about their walks! It’s also important to ensure your dog is getting the right balance of nutrients to help prevent bone, joint or heart conditions. Diets rich in omega 3 oils can also help to reduce inflammatory issues, such as arthritis.
Perhaps the best-known farmer in the UK, TV presenter & lifelong dog owner
Dog walking expert and Lecturer in Human Animal Interaction at the University of Liverpool