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Is motivation “ruff” for you? Look to your dog!

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services established guidelines in 2008 that state, at minimum, adults need 150 minutes of physical activity per week. However, 52 percent of American adults don’t get enough physical activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dog with CocaCola ball

More than half of the country’s pet population is overweight or obese, according to Sherry Sanderson, DVM, PhD, Dipl ACVM, Dipl ACVN. Sanderson is an associate professor of veterinary physiology at the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine and is board-certified in both Small Animal Internal Medicine and Small Animal Clinical Nutrition.

Pets’ health, especially that of dogs, could benefit if considered by pet owners as the motivation needed to become physically active.

Exercise the dog

  • Walk, jog or run with the dog
  • Throw the ball and play fetch
  • Swim (Smaller dogs can even swim in the bathtub!)

Remember, dogs are more stimulated when they can be active outside.

“They live through their noses, so it’s a great trip for them, especially if they can socialize with other animals,” said Susan Sanchez, MSc, PhD, a professor of infectious diseases at the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine. “Exercise makes them feel happy and they bond with their owners.”

It’s fairly easy to figure out how to get a dog active; cats, however, aren’t as easy to motivate.

“Dogs will do things they like – chasing a ball, walking, swimming laps, which is low impact [compared to walking or running],” Sanchez said. “Cats are harder. They need more hands-on exercise.”

Exercise the cat

  • Have them chase the object at the end of a made-for-cats fishing pole (If that doesn’t work, put a catnip-laden cloth at the end of the pole, Sanderson suggests.)
  • Have them chase a laser pointer
  • Have them play with active toys (Sanderson recommends balls that can be filled with kibble, so the cat has to roll the ball around for the food to fall out, one piece at a time.)

While cats aren’t predisposed to hypothyroidism, like dogs, they are at risk for other diseases should they become obese.

“Cats aren’t big exercisers,” Sanderson said. “Cats are a lot like people when they’re obese. They’re more at risk for type 2 diabetes.”

Physical inactivity not only leads to obesity, it also diminishes quality of life and decreases life span. If a pet won’t be active, be patient, increase activity over time and consider seeing a veterinarian if nothing seems to work to get the pet active.

“Find something they like to do,” Sanchez said. “Make sure nothing’s hurting them; this is something a trained eye might see. Have an assessment. Push a little harder. Build up to what they like to do.”

Dogs vary in size and weight to a greater degree than humans. There is not a number-of-pounds-lost-per-week standard that could apply to all dogs.

“Strive for 1 percent body weight loss per week,” Sanderson said. “Although that is our goal, any weight loss is good weight loss. Not all dogs lose weight at that rate and some may take a little longer to reach their goal. Also, remember to celebrate successes along the way to keep motivation high.”

A “remarkable inspiration,” Sanderson worked with a morbidly obese dog, Raleigh, who was 187 pounds when he came to Sanderson. This extreme case called for a special approach – Sanderson put Raleigh on an underwater treadmill at the UGA Veterinary Teaching Hospital and prescribed he be fed a specially formulated, therapeutic, weight loss diet. He dropped more than 100 pounds over the course of years. See Raleigh’s story.

Raleigh has maintained his ideal body weight. “That is what we like to see,” said Sanderson. “With any weight loss program, we have short-term goals of getting the weight off the dog, but also long-term goals of keeping the weight off. Raleigh is a wonderful example of how that can be done successfully when the client and the veterinarian share the same goal, and that is long-term health for their dog.”