Is my dog fit?

When we think of fitness, we think of the gym, going running, doing sports, building muscle or working with a trainer to reach a certain fitness goal like playing a sport or reaching a goaled weight or muscle percentage. For humans, we are pretty clued onto what we can do and how we can improve our fitness. With our dogs, it's not as simple as 'go to the gym' or 'play a sport' and a lot of owners struggle to know whether their dogs are fit or if not, how they can change that.



Why is being fit important?

Regular exercise and physical activity promotes strong muscles and bones, improves cardiovascular and respiratory health and promotes overall health. Staying fit can also help to maintain a healthy weight, reduce the risk of diabetes as well as other weight related illnesses and is crucial in maintaining good overall health and well being.


What does fitness mean?

Fitness by definition means the condition of being fit and healthy and the quality of being suitable to fulfil a particular role or task. Fitness is the condition of being physically fit and healthy and involves attributes that include, but are not limited to mental acuity, cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, body composition, and flexibility.


We all know as humans the issues that follow being overweight and the strain it can cause to our bodies. The same issues also befall our dogs and other pets if they too are overweight and unfit. It is our job as owners to support our dogs in becoming fit and healthy and to ensure they maintain a healthy weight long term and are not suffering because of weight related issues. We can do this in many ways but the main two are by doing regular and appropriate exercise and by ensuring high quality nutrition in appropriate quantities.


Lets look at these two area's in a bit more detail:


1. Nutrition


Giving our dogs good nutrition is the foundation for overall good health and wellbeing. What we feed our dogs directly impacts the health of their body and their ability to maintain health and wellbeing long term. Ensuring we provide good quality nutrition is an essential baseline when we begin looking at health and fitness as if our dog isn't on high quality food, their body won't be able to use the required nutrients to maintain a healthy body, organs and muscles. For help on deciding if your dogs food (and treats!) are good quality or not you can use the website www.allaboutdogfood.co.uk that rate different food brands based on the quality of nutrition making it easier for owners to pick quality dog food for their pets. The quantity of food we feed our dogs is also greatly important. If we feed our dogs too much of any food without the means to burn off the excess calories, they will inevitably gain weight. Feeding guidelines are a great place to start to figure out how much food your dog needs but as each dog is an individual, their calorie burning and therefore food intake will also be different. As a rule of thumb we generally recommend following the feeding guidelines of the food company and altering it as appropriate based on your dogs exercise, metabolism and weight gain or loss. If your dog is gaining weight, give them less food or more exercise and on the flip side, if your dog is loosing weight, increase their calorie intake until they are able to maintain a good weight.

You can use the chart below (from Nutriment Raw) to determine whether your dog is a good weight.



2. Exercise


Having regular exercise is hugely important for all dogs as it helps to maintain suppleness of joints, build strong muscles and create a healthy physical body to support the dog. This is especially important as dog get older as it is common for dogs to slow down and begin to do less each day which can easily lead to muscle wastage and painful joints. By keeping to some sort of regular exercise we can ensure the dog's muscles and joints continue to move as best as possible and we keep on the important muscle that supports their joints on a daily basis. For younger dogs, exercise has so many physical, mental and social benefits! However, it is important to remember that exercise is more than just letting your dog run around freely for hours on end. Like humans, certain exercises will help with certain muscle building where other help with general fitness. Where running around will help with the dogs overall fitness and enable them to be exercising for longer, the continued high energy exercise won't be as beneficial at strengthening different muscle groups. Things like structured walking on the lead, stretches and specific exercises tailored to building muscle are much more beneficial for your dog long term. You can speak to a qualified therapist to assess the structural health of your dog, looking at their muscle tone and quality and then be advised on what stretches and/or exercises you can do to help them more specifically. Our therapist Amber wrote a blog on here talking about the benefits of stretching for your dog so take a read of that too if you're interested!



The good thing about fitness is that even if your dog is currently unfit, there are lots of easy ways you can begin to work on them to help your dog to become fit and healthy! The first step is ensuring your dog has good quality food, is being exercised appropriately and if you are struggling to shed some weight, put some on or to gain muscle with what you are currently doing speak to a professional who can advise you! Our therapies team are always on hand to offer advise to ensure your dog is able to be as fit and healthy as they can be so that they can live a long and happy life with you!

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