The Importance of Exercising Your Pet

A Rodale Press Contribution

For the wild cousins of domestic dogs and cats, regular exercise is an integral and necessary part of daily life. They must keep on the move because they must hunt for food. A walk to the food bowl is the only exercise many house pets ever get.

Yet regular exercise is essential for optimal health. Sustained, vigorous use of the muscles stimulates all tissues and increases circulation. Blood vessels dilate and blood pressure rises. As a result, tissues become oxygenated, which helps to clean the cells of toxins. Digestive glands secrete their fluids better and the bowels move more easily.

Join your pet in jogging, taking a walk, playing ball or chasing sticks and Frisbees. Nearly all dogs benefit from half an hour or more of daily vigorous exercise. If your pet is old and weak or has a bad heart, settle for slow walks around the block.

Cats, on the other hand, are not inclined to chase balls or jog, but they usually get enough exercise if they are allowed outside part of the time and have a suitable place to "scratch." The practice of removing their claws (which is equivalent to cutting off the last joint of each of your own fingers) is not only cruel and painful, but it also prevents the important feline exercise pattern of using the claws to knead and stretch - which benefits the muscles of the forelegs, backbone and shoulders. A cat that can't perform this ritual is likely to become weaker and thus more susceptible to illness and degeneration.

Most cats also love to play "thing-on-a-string," chasing and batting at a piece of string with a loop or mouse toy attached to one end. Pet stores sell many such toys for both cats and dogs. When playing games with a pet, however, do not use your bare hand as the "bait" or the object of teasing. This can teach your animal that it's all right to scratch or bite your hands, a lesson you will want him to "unlearn" in the future.

If your dog is temporarily unable to walk because of a sore foot or a partial paralysis, encourage him to swim in place in a bathtub, large trough, swimming pool or natural body of water to get exercise. Swimming strengthens the body in the same way running does. If your pet tends to sink, place a towel or cloth as a sling under the body for support. This exercise is especially good for dogs with back problems.

Visit these message boards for more advice:

Dr. Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD is a licensed veterinarian who co-wrote Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats with Susan Hubble Pitcairn. Dr. Pitcairn's introduction to holistic medicine over 20 years ago began with experiencing the effect of changing his dietary habits. After obtaining his PhD in advanced studies in immunology, he converted his practice to the use of homeopathy and nutrition. Recently, Dr. Pitcairn has turned his attention to training other veterinarians in this system of healing.

Copyright © 1995 by Richard H. Pitcairn & Susan H. Pitcairn

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