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:
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.