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Fitness … For Dogs

How to keep your pup healthy and active this spring
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By NICOLE GAICH Moonshine Ink

It’s almost that time of year. The snow is melting, trails are emerging, and the thoughts of swimming are getting closer and closer … they can smell it! Tahoe dogs love their spring and summer activities just as much as we do. Here are some tips to help get your favorite trail buddy conditioned and ready for the next adventure.

A dog’s body is a machine, and if conditioned properly, they can sustain a healthy, active lifestyle. Every dog has different needs, though, and finding a balance of cardiovascular activity, strength training, diet, and supplementation (recommended by your veterinarian) is vital. Regular exercise for your dog will provide many benefits: it strengthens and builds muscle, increases flexibility and range of motion, promotes balance and coordination, increases mental stimulation, provides an outlet for excessive energy, aids in weight loss, and — best of all — strengthens the bond between you and your dog. I encourage a visit to your veterinarian before starting any new workout program, introducing a new activity, or checking out a suspected injury for your pet.

It’s always important to warm up before an exercise routine. I know you probably do a little stretching before a run or a quick round of push ups and jumping jacks in the parking lot before heading up the funitel. Your dog’s body deserves the same pre-game regiment to avoid injury. Before your next adventure, try having your dog go for a short walk to warm up their muscles or go through a round of warm-up exercises. A good start would be to try having your dog walk a “figure 8” pattern, or, if that is too hard, try just walking a full circle for a minute, repeating for 3 rounds. This will allow for your dog’s back/core muscles and limb muscles to flex and extend, increasing circulation and warming up the tissues, which increases flexibility and range of motion. It also starts to bump up their heart rate and helps their body’s awareness and dexterity.  

After a good warm-up, your dog’s body is ready for fun. Ease your dog into his favorite activity. As much as their minds will tell them they can run for days and countless hours, their bodies might have a harder time keeping up. Instead, build their pace up and gradually increase your activity and skill level to give their body the proper time to adjust.  We also want to keep a close eye on our dog’s age when we are talking about activity and impact on the body. Our younger dogs are still developing and high impact activities can create damage to developing bone structures. It’s recommended that you hold off on any high impact activities until their growth plates are fully closed — at around 8 to 15 months of age.

One of my main goals is to promote preventive care and avert injuries, but sometimes they still happen. This is where canine physical rehabilitation comes in. We can now provide targeted exercises and execute a treatment plan with the use of modalities and manual therapies to help your pet. Common injuries that accompany high impact activity can vary from ligament tears, sprains, muscle tears, toe (digit) injuries, spinal cord injuries, and fractures, to degenerative changes like arthritis.

With that being said, here are a few things to look out for if you suspect your dog might have sustained an injury. Our animals are very stoic creatures and they don’t always show pain like we do. A dog’s many joints can sustain injury and most likely present with a limp or non-use of the limb. Your dog can also start to show signs of refusing to do one of their normal tasks like jumping into the car or struggling to get onto the bed, or suddenly becoming paralyzed. It might also present an on-and-off limp as that only comes after exercise. You know your dog best, and if anything seems off, then it probably is. If you see any of these behaviors or changes in your dog it is recommended you take your pet to your veterinarian for a full exam. With this exam and diagnostic imagery, we can then implement a recovery plan for your dog and get them back out on the trails.

Have fun out there with your best friend; they will appreciate the extra time and attention because it means many more adventures to come. Long live our Tahoe dogs!

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March 14, 2019