Pet obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S.
In 2014, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) conducted its annual National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Survey which determined that 53% of dogs and 58% of cats are overweight or obese. That’s nearly 100,000,000 cats and dogs, which is an unacceptable reflection of how we treat our beloved pets. Many health problems, some of which are irreversible and all of which compromise quality of life, affect pets that are overweight and obese.
The good news is that the opportunity to be healthier through weight management exists every day and pet owners don’t need to wait until January 1st to start better lifestyle habits. Besides enforcing calorie restriction for your pet, partaking in daily exercise is the best way to promote weight loss and improved whole-body health.
January is Walk Your Pet Month, so it’s time to get moving. Here are my top 10 reasons why walking your pet is a simple and important aspect of promoting his mental health and well-being.
When a dog is continuously confined to one location and not given the opportunity to be exposed to new environments, behavioral problems can ensue. Just like people, dogs frequently need a change of location to stimulate their brains and senses. Dogs that get insufficient exercise are prone to behavior problems like separation anxiety, including vocalizing, destructive tendencies, inappropriate urination and defecation, and attempts to escape captive quarters.
I firmly believe that well-exercised dogs are better-behaved and recommend that my clients exercise healthy dogs every day to a point of physical fatigue.
Getting out and about to walk your dog permits both humans and canines to potentially interact with other humans and domesticated animals (avoid wildlife please!).
Dogs are social animals and are biologically programmed to be part of a pack. You are part of your dog’s pack and hopefully serve the role of the leader, but he can also fit into that group of dogs you meet for your walks around the neighborhood. Plus, you may develop new friendships through interactions with your neighbors that are prompted through dog-walking.
Due to the pet obesity epidemic, my primary recommendation for regularly embarking on walks with your dog is to promote your pooch’s best health. This includes weight loss and management. Not all dogs need to lose weight, but going on a minimum of one daily walk of 30 minutes or more is a good place to start. Make sure to engage your veterinarian in the plan so that your dog’s weight-management goals can be safely attained.
Better Blood Circulation
All body parts must receive blood’s delivery of oxygen and nutrients so tissue repair and healing can occur. The action of walking increases your dog’s cardiac output so more blood can flow to tissues and working muscles can be nourished. Additionally, increased blood flow promotes the removal of metabolic wastes and toxins through the liver, kidneys, and lymphatics.
Enhanced Lymphatic Drainage and Immune Function
The lymphatic system parallels the arteries and veins and helps drain the limbs and body cavities (chest, abdomen, etc.) to reduce the potential for edema (swelling) that can compromise tissue health. Additionally, the lymphatic system creates channels through which white blood cells, antibodies (infection-fighting immune system proteins), and other crucial aspects of immune system can flow to manage infection, inflammation, cancer, and other health issues.
Improved Gastrointestinal Motility
Bodies that spend more time being immobile experience gastrointestinal stasis, which is a slowing of stomach and intestinal contraction. Indigestion, vomiting, and constipation are more common in pets that are more sedentary than active.
Walking your dog promotes peristalsis (intestinal contraction) which facilitates digestion and the removal of waste through the colon in the form of feces. Such is why your pooch may take more than one bowel movement during longer or exertive walks.
More Muscle Development
Walking is an exercise that promotes muscular development. When your dog is required to stand and walk, he engages a variety of muscles in the limbs, chest, abdomen, and along the vertebral column (backbone) that are crucial to maintaining spinal/nerve function and whole-body stability.
Walking up an incline or steps engages the hind limbs while going down a decline or steps works the front limbs. Walking on an incline or decline is my preference over taking the stairs, as steps can be more traumatic to aged or mobility-compromised pooches due to the abrupt movements involved in negotiating stairs’ irregularly placed paw-landing surfaces.
Generally Safe and Well Tolerated Activity
Even dogs that don’t exercise regularly can go for a controlled walk in a temperate climate. Before engaging your dog in an intense or consistent exercise program, schedule an examination with your veterinarian to determine if there are underlying orthopedic ailments (osteoarthritis, intervertebral disc disease [IVDD], etc.), glandular conditions (kidney/liver disease, hypothyroidism, etc.), or other health problems that could compromise his ability to walk for exercise.
Free and Universally Accessible
Unless you take your dog for a walk in a space where you are charged an entrance fee (national parks, etc.), getting out and about with your dog is free but for the cost of the collar or harness and leash. Walking is a money-saving exercise that shouldn’t cause financial drain for households of any income status.
Additionally, there are so many locations where dogs can be walked that one can never realistically run out of options to provide a safe form of daily exercise. You can walk on the streets of your neighborhood or anywhere you travel provided the environment is safe and pet-appropriate (i.e. not walking in areas of poor visibility, on the edge of busy roads, etc.).
Human Weight Benefits
Owners also benefit from engaging in exercise with pets. The PPET (People Pets Exercising Together) Study proved that owners who regularly exercised with their dog were better able to stick with their own workout plan than participants without the companionship of a canine.
Your companion canine or feline can lead a higher quality of life with your daily dedication to preventing obesity and promoting healthy weight management through activities like walking. Let’s get up, get out, and walk our way to better human and pet health.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney VMD, CVA, CVJ is a veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist providing services to Los Angeles-based clients both on a house call and in-clinic basis. Dr. Mahaney’s unique approach integrating eastern and western medical perspectives has evolved into a concierge house call practice, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW), Inc. Additionally, Dr. Mahaney offers holistic treatment for canine and feline cancer patients at the Veterinary Cancer Group (Culver City, CA).