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Like Father, Like Fido?

Like Father, Like Fido?

By Dr. Lorraine Ellwood

Most of us realize how much our pets can improve our quality of life. Studies have shown that owning a pet can have a positive effect on an emotional level by decreasing depression, stress and anxiety and loneliness. Our furry friends can also keep us healthier by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve our immunity and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Despite all the good that pets do for us, there are some unhealthy aspects to the relationship. Many of us lead an increasingly sedentary and overindulgent life style. Not only are we becoming more overweight, but many of us have passed these habits to our beloved pets. Our pets are becoming couch potatoes just like us. As many as 50 percent of dogs and 55 percent of cats are considered overweight. They are at risk of developing health problems such as Diabetes, arthritis and heart disease.

So what can we do to stop this? Of course we can cut back on the treats and snacks that we give to our pets. We can also start a regular exercise program to keep us and our pets healthy and trim. For cats the best exercise is to encourage them to chase toys, balls, sticks with feathers and laser pointers. Providing a cat tree or condo and scratching post can also help to get them moving. For our dogs there are many forms of exercise we can do - walking, jogging, swimming, dancing, hiking, games, agility training, yoga and more. Most dogs should get between one to two hours of exercise a day, but this can vary depending on the age, breed and health of your pet. It is always a good idea to check with your veterinarian before starting an exercise regimen.

Always make sure that you start slowly and gradually with an exercise plan to build up endurance and tolerance. Watch for signs of exhaustion such as heavy panting, wheezing, lameness and disorientation. Be careful on hot days and be sure to let your pet have access to cool, fresh water. Stop or reduce exercise if your pet seems tired or sore. Also be careful running or walking your dog on hot pavement. It burns! If you notice any signs of illness or lameness during or after exercise contact your veterinarian.

So turn off the TV, get off the couch and enjoy some quality time exercising with your pet! You both will benefit from it.