As we prepare for the New Year, you might have already decided one of your goals for the year ahead will be to get out and about more with your dog - and we don’t blame you.
The fresh air brings many benefits, both physically and mentally, to people and pets alike.
Dr Nick Hill is an inventor and MD of Sure Petcare, makers of the new Animo activity and behaviour monitor for dogs and this month Nick is sharing his top health and fitness tips for dogs.
Here are three reasons to start your New Year Resolutions now.
1. The importance of walking
As little as 30 minutes walking every day can help to keep our bodies in shape, reduce the risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes and is particularly beneficial for mental wellbeing. And having a dog gives us a great excuse to get out in the fresh air to benefit from all of these things.
But how can you tell if your dog is getting the right exercise?
Nick tells us, “The most obvious end result is weight gain, but exercise isn’t just a matter of using up energy. For dogs, it’s about mental stimulation, social contact and play. If a dog is demanding, destructive and unsettled at home, these are signs that he or she needs a more stimulating life, including more exercise.”
What are some of the main benefits to dogs and their owners of getting active and going for a walk, even a short one?
“Humans are recommended to spend a minimum of 30 minutes of their day exercising, and for your active dog, you should be doing at least twice that. Try a vigorous aerobic activity, such as running, as well as less strenuous activities like walking.
“What could be a better, more enjoyable, workout than a 20-30 minute fast walk to the park, 30-60 minutes of running around playing games with your dog at the park, and then a relaxed walk home?
“Too often owners just let their dogs loose to run around at the park on their own, without getting involved. That’s a shame, because dogs love it if we join in with them. If we all did this at least once every day, then we and our dogs would be much fitter and happier.
“Even short walks are valuable, and it’s important for us to stand up and move around every 30 minutes to avoid circulatory problems. Why not combine that with a quick game or walk around the block with your dog?”
What do you recommend to increase activity for an older dog?
“As dogs get older they tend to lose muscular strength, and they get health problems like arthritis and heart disease, so they may not be able to walk as far, or for as long, or do the more strenuous activities.
“The problem is that this can easily become a downward spiral of reduced exercise leading to further reduced strength and fitness. So, it is important to keep your dog active and treat the conditions, like arthritis and heart disease, that could be causing debilitation.
“If your dog is struggling, try walking him/her on softer surfaces and staying on the flat. Consider a course of swimming/hydrotherapy that can help to rebuild muscular strength.
“Give your dog a well-cushioned bed that distributes pressure evenly, and doesn’t leave him/her uncomfortable after rest. Instead of going on a continuous one-hour walk, give your dog half a dozen 10-minute walks, and go to places that are really interesting and fun.”
2. Lifestyle v Nutrition: how to strike the right balance
Often the easiest way to tell if we’re giving our dog the right level of nutrients for their lifestyle is right in front of our eyes.
It’s important to make sure we balance a healthy diet with a healthy lifestyle to avoid feeding our dog too much or too little for their needs.
Nick tells us how to spot the signs of an unbalanced diet.
This chart will visually help you to work out your dog's body condition score
“Body condition is your best indicator, and it is quite easy to assess.
“Place your palms flat on the sides of your dog’s chest; you shouldn’t feel ribs. If you can feel prominent ribs, your dog may be too thin. Next run your fingertips along the sides of your dog’s chest, applying gentle pressure; now you should feel individual ribs.
“If you can’t, your dog may have too much body fat. Your vet can give you a more accurate assessment of body condition, and it’s something worth asking about every time you go for a routine annual checkup.”
Can you give us some examples of how the data that your activity and behaviour monitor reports can be used by owners to improve the way that they care for their dog?
“Animo provides a daily value for the amount of energy, in the form of calories, that your dog has used up. If your dog has had a lazy day, and not used up much energy, you could reduce the amount of food you give at dinnertime. Alternatively, you could give a bit more if your dog has been doing a lot of exercise.
“It also gives information about levels of activity such as; how much your dog has been walking, running or just generally active. For owners who use a dog walking service, this is really useful because without the feedback Animo gives you, you might have little idea what your dog has actually been doing.
“An even more important benefit is the ability to look at trends over time. Let’s say that you go on the same walk every day, but when you look at Animo’s readings at the end of the month you see that your dog is walking more, but running and active less than usual. That could be an indication of weight gain, reducing fitness or the start of a health problem. It could also be an indication that your dog is getting bored of these particular walks, or that you need to make more effort to play and entertain your dog.”
3. Like us, dogs need good quality sleep
Sleep is incredibly important for our health and wellbeing. It is estimated that dogs sleep around 12 hours a day, on average, so how important is a good sleep to dogs?
Nick says until recently we didn’t know all that much about the impact of sleep on a dog’s wellbeing but a recent study shed light on the subject, determining that sleep is incredibly important for dogs too.
“Until recently, this is a question that would have been hard to answer, because we knew so little about sleep in dogs. We know that, in people, disordered sleep is associated with anxiety, lack of concentration, health problems and even obesity, but in dogs, the picture is less clear. However, there are indications that sleep quality is linked with anxiety disorders in dogs.
“In a couple of studies by Jon Bowen and Jaume Fatjó, two experts in behaviour, they found that poor sleep quality was linked with noise phobia and conflicted relationships with family members. Anecdotally, veterinary behaviourists like Jon find that improving a dog’s ability to get proper rest and sleep can have a big impact on problem behaviours like anxiety and aggression.”