Fitness training for your dog (or cat) includes balance work, stretching, tricks and aerobics
By Kim Campbell Thornton
The holidays are over, you're back at work or school and you're still enthusiastic about your New Year's resolution to get in better shape. I think most of us commit to some version of that resolution every year: to exercise more, take up a new activity, eat right. Include your pet in that fitness resolution, and you'll improve his health, performance and longevity, says veterinary sports medicine specialist Cindy Otto, DVM.
My cavalier Harper and I started a little early with this resolution when we attended a working dog fitness class last November, led by Dr. Otto. The exercises we learned are often taught to working dogs and canine athletes to help them stay agile and teach them body awareness, but any pet can benefit.
"I think pet dogs benefit even more because often they're bored to tears, they're fat and they don't have anything to mentally stimulate them," Dr. Otto says. "I think the whole process, especially training and working with your dog, changes your relationship."
A pet workout isn't that different from one you might do for yourself. It includes a warmup, stretching, balance exercises for core power, strength training and a cool down. You can take a fitness class with your dog or learn some simple strategies to work with him on your own, using equipment you may already have or can build easily.
A warmup is as simple as walking your dog around for a few minutes to get the blood flowing (especially if he has been crated for any length of time), some active stretches such as downward dog (a play bow) and a counter stretch such as "frog dog" for groin muscles. A trick such as "wave" or "high five" is a good stretch for limbs and shoulders. Complete the warmup with some sits and downs and a rubdown to get the blood flowing.
Balance exercises to build a strong core (think "pupilates") include sitting up on the hind legs; walking a plank -- a board placed atop two balance discs so it's a little wobbly when the pet crosses it; or standing on single or multiple balance discs. Core exercises can also be as simple as having your pet stand or walk on a sofa cushion or inflatable bed.
"Dogs need core strength to keep their spine and pelvis healthy and happy," Dr. Otto says. "A lot of dogs end up losing their lives because of hind end weakness. Bad hips and bad backs are big causes of euthanasia."
Balance work doesn't take long. Spend three to five minutes daily practicing these exercises with your pet. If your dog has a long back or doesn't have good control, be cautious and go slowly with difficult exercises such as "sit pretty."
Another important aspect of fitness is what's known as proprioception, or body awareness. Learning to back up, fitting all four feet in a box and spinning in both directions are all skills that can help to build this ability.
Exercises for building strength and proprioception include walking up hills or walking sideways up hills. Backing up a hill strengthens the rear end while backing down a hill strengthens the front end. Other good strength exercises are "pushups" -- repeated sits and downs -- rolling over in both directions, crawling and trotting through the rungs of a ladder on the ground.
"Fit dogs have muscle tone," Dr. Otto says. "Just being thin isn't enough."
To find a class, do a web search for "fitness class for pets." You can find classes for puppies, seniors and people and pets of all fitness levels.
Shedding or hair loss:
What's the difference?
Q: My cat seems to be losing a lot of hair. He even has a couple of bald patches. What is the problem? -- via Facebook
A: It's normal for cats to shed, of course. Hairs grow and then fall out on a regular basis, adorning our "fur-niture" (that's why they call it that), floors and clothing. Sometimes cats spontaneously lose a lot of hair when they are nervous or afraid. Stress activates their arrector pili muscles, attached to the hair follicles, causing the cat to suddenly lose hairs that have been in the resting phase of the hair growth cycle. That's a harmless condition, although it may leave your hands and clothing extra furry, but if your cat is starting to get bare patches, it's time to see your veterinarian. Any time you can see skin, hair loss is not normal.
Cats can lose fur from scratching or chewing at themselves. Known as traumatic hair loss, it's usually related to itchy skin caused by allergies or fleabites. Cats with traumatic hair loss are often allergic to substances in the environment, such as pollens or to ingredients in their diet.
Occasionally, cats can experience spontaneous hair loss from endocrine diseases such as Cushing's or from certain forms of cancer, such as lymphoma or liver or pancreatic cancer.
To diagnose the problem, your veterinarian will need to perform a physical exam. If the cause isn't obvious -- fleas, for instance -- blood work and possibly a skin biopsy can help to pinpoint the problem. If your cat has an endocrine disease or allergies, your veterinarian can prescribe medication or a change in diet. These types of conditions usually respond well to treatment.
If medical causes are ruled out, seek the advice of a veterinary behaviorist. Your cat may have a compulsive disorder that's causing him to pull out his fur. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Pacemaker gives dog
new leash on life
-- A 7-year-old bulldog named Joe is the first canine recipient of a state-of-the-art pacemaker, a small device that helps to control abnormal heart rhythms. The human-grade pacemaker, implanted by Auburn University veterinarian SeungWoo Jung, stimulates more of the heart than older models more commonly used in dogs. Older-style pacemakers regulated only the heart's bottom chamber, while newer models regulate top and bottom chambers. Manufacturers have made the devices available to veterinary cardiology programs at low or no cost.
-- Max and Bella top the list of most popular pet names of 2015, followed by Charlie and Buddy for male dogs and Lucy and Daisy for females. The trend toward human names for pets has been going strong for several years (last year, 49 percent of pet lovers chose "people" names for their dogs and cats), but pop culture is a force as well. "Star Wars" fans are naming pets Chewbacca, Yoda and Wicket, not to mention Luke and Leia. And who wouldn't name a Lab Boba Fetch? "Harry Potter" aficionados name pets Luna or Dobby as well as variations on the scarred wizard himself: Harry Pawter or Hairy Potter, anyone?
-- When foxes nearly wiped out a colony of fairy, or little, penguins on Australia's Middle Island, the flightless birds were rescued by an unusual savior: a Maremma sheepdog named Oddball. The uninhabited (except by penguins) island was invaded by foxes, who crossed to it from the mainland during low tide and feasted on the tiny penguins, which stand only 8 to 12 inches high. A chicken farmer suggested that his Maremma, a guardian breed, be used to protect the birds. That was 10 years ago, and the experiment was a success -- the fairy penguin population has risen to 200. Currently, two dogs named Eudy and Tula patrol Middle Island, and a new puppy is in training to start work this year. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.
CAPTIONS AND CREDITS
Caption 01: Dogs and cats can benefit from "core" and strength training. Position: Main Story
Caption 02: Dogs as diverse as briards and Brussels griffons are named after the "Star Wars" character Chewbacca, said to have been inspired by George Lucas' big, furry Alaskan malamute. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 2