April is Canine Fitness Month, as named by FitPaws, as a way to bring awareness to the importance of raising a fit and healthy pup. Just like humans, dogs also need a healthy regimen of diet and exercise in order to stay in tip-top shape, and live a long healthy life. It can be easy to let our pets fall into a sedentary routine — especially if we have one for ourselves — but a healthy dog is a happy dog, and isn’t that really all that matters? We spoke to local veterinarian, Erin Harker, the Medical Director at Bond Vet in Hoboken to get her expert advice on canine fitness and what dog owners should be prioritizing when it comes to pet health. Read on for more tips on keep your pup fit, from a local expert.
Keeping Your Pup in Shape
Similar to humans, there are some health risks associated with dogs being over or underweight. Erin explains that joint diseases — injury from carrying around extra weight — is something she sees in overweight dogs. “They can also be more prone to metabolic issues, or develop certain diseases more quickly. The biggest issue is their mobility. You want your dog to be able to get up and get around to do what they want to do with ease.”
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Erin shared that the most common issue she sees in her practice is overfeeding. It can be very easy to overfeed our four legged-friends — especially when they are being so cute and really earning themselves a treat or two — but feeding them a proper amount is crucial to keeping a healthy pet. Erin says that she encounters overfeeding much more often than she does under-exercising. Pet owners can look up something called a Body Condition Score, which gives guidelines about how dogs should look and feel depending on the breed and age, which can help owners assess if they may need to increase or decrease their food amount.
“You want them to have a visible waistline,” shares Erin, “and you want to be able to feel their ribs pretty easily under the skin, without too much extra padding.” For most breeds of dog, their ribs should not be sticking out — a sign of being underweight. However, for some breeds, it is common for their ribs to stick out at a normal weight, so it is important to check on your pets’ Body Condition Score to make sure they are in the right percentile.
Exercise is also very important for dogs’ health. Erin says that owners should take into account their dog’s breed and age when assessing how much exercise is necessary for their dog to stay fit. “Certain breeds are meant for endurance and tons of exercise, and you really can’t tire them out. Other breeds you have to be more cautious with — especially in the warmer months, when they can have trouble breathing. Pugs, French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs, and other “flat face” breeds can quickly overheat and get heatstroke, so while it is still important to get them moving, it is equally as important to do so with caution.
When it comes to puppies, owners should also take a bit more caution with their fitness level. Puppies are still growing — usually for about one full year after birth — and their joints and bones are still developing. Until they are fully grown, puppies shouldn’t be taken on runs or hikes. They can go on walks and play, but owners should not push them to go further than the puppy is willing.
Just like humans, dogs need to ease into their exercise routine. If you want to start taking your dog on hikes and runs, treat them how you would yourself. Take it easy, start slow, and increase mileage and pace as time goes by. Dogs need rest days too. It takes time for them to increase their strength and endurance, just like it would for us.
A good energy level is the strongest sign of a happy and healthy dog, according to Erin. While dogs sleep a lot, they should also have periods during the day of wanting to run around, wanting to play, or go on a walk. “They should be enjoying their life.”
Bond Vet is a new general practice and urgent care vet in Hoboken. They are located at 1425 Washington Street and are open Sunday to Friday from 10AM to 8PM. They are closed on Saturdays.