Time to move: Dogs and people getting fit together

December 14, 2009 at 8:45 pm Leave a comment

bigstockphoto_Overweight_3145998When Veterinary Economics reported on a study comparing the health benefits of dog ownership to those of gym membership, the results surprised some people:

According to a new study conducted by British pet health company Bob Martin found that dog owners get more exercise than gym members. The average dog owner walks his or her pooch twice a day for 24 minutes each stroll, plus three longer treks a week at 51 minutes each. That’s more than eight hours of exercise per week, compared to just one hour and 20 minutes that the average gym member gets.

Pet owners aren’t only getting more exercise than many gym members—they’re enjoying it more, too. Eighty-six percent of dog owners said they like walking with their pet, while just 16 percent of people reported enjoying going to the gym.

I wasn’t surprised, though. I’d already learned the incredible benefit of dog ownership on human health and fitness when I co-authored “Fitness Unleashed:A  Dog and Owner’s Guide To Losing Weight and Gaining Health Together” with Robert Kushner, M.D.

But the benefit to us is only half the story. The other half is for our pets. And our pets are increasingly obese, a health catastrophe that’s cutting short the lives of our best friends.

Keeping your pets at a healthy weight and giving them lots of exercise adds “years to their life and life to their years.” Not only do pounds melt away with walking, but sometimes behavioral problems do as well.

And pets don’t have to lose all the excess weight to gain most of the benefits. Most of my clients whose pets lose just 5 to 10 percent of their excess weight say things like, “They’re puppies again!” or “It’s like we put new batteries in them!”

While they can see things that are happening on the outside, I smile because I know of all the great things that are happening inside their pets. I often pat the pet on the head and tell the client, “You’ve just added several chapters to your life together; congratulations to both of you!”

One of the problems I see as a communicator on the subject is people thinking their fat pets are not overweight. In one survey, 50 percent of people with overweight pets rated their four-legged family members as being at their ideal body weight.

So what is a pet’s ideal body weight, and how do you know if your pet’s at that weight? For a good estimate, what did your dog weight as a young adult? Look in books or online for breed standards. Or best of all, ask your veterinarian to help you determine what your pet’s current body condition scoring is, and what his ideal body weight should be.

Your veterinarian can also outline a safe weight loss plan that will include portion controlled food, healthier snack choices, perhaps special reducing diets or FDA-approved drugs.

But the most important thing of all — for both of you — is exercise. Check with your veterinarian and your physician to make sure you’re both ready to hit the trails, and then get out there. Happy walking!


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Meat Grissom The Labrador Retriever Dog

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