Pet Aerobics

By Isabelle Lipkin

January 16, 2009 5 min read


Getting your dog or cat into shape has benefits

Isabelle Lipkin

Creators News Service

Sure, it looks like an easy life: Nap for hours, laze around in the sunny yard and then go straight to a ready-to-eat bowl of food. But household pets also need exercise for all the same reasons that their owners do: to keep weight under control, muscles in shape and, just as significantly, maintain an even keel with disposition.

"It definitely brings emotional benefits," said Meg Wallace, professional petsitter and owner of Eastside Petsitters in Los Angeles. "Exercise can improve a pet's mood by taking away excess energy and anxiety as well."

Not only is it their natural instinct to exercise, insisted Wallace, but "it can help with their health and temperament." And it's not just Fido that needs the workout. "Exercising a cat can be difficult," admits Wallace. "They do sleep more and some cats don't like to play, but exercise is beneficial to them if you can get them to do it."

So, with the benefits clear, the question remains: How do you get them moving?

Animal expert Warren Eckstein, an author and host of the syndicated radio show "The Pet Show with Warren Eckstein," said an animal should start with a basic check up.

"It's no different than a person," said Eckstein, "Make sure your pet is physically in good shape, and be sure to warm them up a bit. Build an exercise program up gradually and always end on a positive note." If pets aren't exercised, said Eckstein, "they will have the same problems that people have with hip and joint problems and arthritis."

Change out pet toys to add variety and scatter them around the house and backyard. Don't just take the dog around the block, but rather try heading to a dog park, a dog beach or seek out an agility training course. Or make doggy play dates with well-behaved neighborhood pet pals, said Eckstein.

For the indoor cat, he suggested bringing home cardboard boxes from the grocery store, cutting holes and creating tunnels to form a kitty condo. The new smells will get your cat nosing around and investigating. "Many people don't realize how physical cats can be," said Eckstein. "By constantly changing the environment you'll keep your cat stimulated. The more physical exercise a cat has the fewer behavior issues it will have."

Walking cats on a harness is another suggestion, if you can desensitize your cat to wearing one. Or just chase your cat, said Eckstein, and then have your cat chase you. Play monkey in the middle with another person while your cat or dog runs back and forth. Use Frisbees or fetch toys to get your dog going, while cats often enjoy feather toys, or even a laser pointer. "They go crazy over them," Wallace said.

Beware a "weekend warrior" attitude, said Eckstein, referring to the person who works all week and then wants to take a dog out on a marathon run. "Don't exercise your dog or cat before or after they eat," warned Eckstein.

Bad weather is no excuse. Try indoor staircase sprints, or running up and down a hall. "Just remember how you feel when you've got pent-up energy," said Eckstein. "That's how your pet feels."

He also encourages massage as a way to soothe a tired pet's muscles, bond, and check for any lumps or bumps under the dog's skin.

"It's like the old adage, a tired dog is a happy dog," said Paul Brahaney of Jog A Dog, a company that produces indoor treadmills specially made for dogs. Invented in 1972, the treadmill comes in four sizes. "Well over 90 percent of behavior issues with dogs [such as nipping, whining and chewing] is due to lack exercise," said Brahaney. "They need a release, and the treadmill does it."

After a dog is acclimated, he said, "they beg to get on it. Then you're not dependent on the weather, and you provide your dog with exercise. It's consistent." Just like for most humans, pets come to depend on their exercise routines and the benefits are clear -- for everyone in the household.

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