All dogs should be exercised to some degree, but how much activity does your dog need? Too little and the risk is an overweight, unhealthy dog, while too much may cause injury or other health issues.
Veterinarian David Quach, of Creature Comforts (www.creaturecomforts.com.hk), says: "Just as with us humans, there's not a simple plan that fits all dogs. I usually tell owners that frequency, duration and type of exercise really depends on a dog's breed, age and whether it has any underlying medical conditions. Most dogs can tolerate a minimum of 30 minutes per day either in one go or divided into two walks."
Breed is a big factor in determining the amount of exercise. Working, hunting and sporting dogs, such as golden retrievers, Labradors, collies, Weimaraners and mixed breeds, have the highest tolerance for exercise.
"These breeds, given no underlying medical conditions, and reasonable environmental temperatures, may require at least 30 minutes of rigorous exercise in addition to one to two hours of daily walks or play time."
Snub-nosed breeds, such as bulldogs, pugs and Boston terriers, are more difficult to classify, Quach says.
"It really depends on how short their noses are, or, more specifically, the size of their nares/nostril and the length of their soft palate."
A very long soft palate or small nares will restrict a dog's breathing and air flow, increasing the risk of heat stress. Quach says two dogs of the same breed, even from the same litter, can have anatomical differences that affect each animal's level of exercise tolerance.
"These breeds vary the most with exercise tolerance."
Owners of snub-nosed breeds are advised to have a vet examine them and ask for advice on the dog's exercise tolerance and any breathing issues. With this information an owner can observe and tailor a suitable exercise programme.
"It is important that you don't withhold exercise from these breeds as obesity is quite common, which will exacerbate any breathing issues. Extra attention should be paid to the environmental temperature. Exercise should not be too rigorous and the length of each session of exercise should be monitored to make sure the dog is not showing any signs of breathing difficulty," the vet says.
Many owners of toy or small breed dogs tend to think they don't require exercise but this is not correct, Quach says. "These breeds, such as chihuahuas, Pomeranians and poodles, all need regular walking and activity. They will often be less destructive and have fewer behavioural issues with a good exercise regime, although it is important to tailor their exercise to take into account any health issues."
He says that it is not uncommon for these breeds to have knee or trachea (windpipe) issues from an early age, which may affect their ability to exercise, so it is important to have them checked by a vet. "A healthy small breed dog can exercise for as much as two 30-minute walks per day or a daily one-hour walk plus playing outdoors."
He adds that walking may not be the most appropriate activity, or the only form of exercise to consider. Swimming is an excellent choice for older dogs with arthritis or young dogs during summer when longer walks and runs may result in heat stroke. "Bigger dogs can go to the many dog-friendly beaches and smaller- or medium-sized dogs can go to the dog swimming pools available in parts of Hong Kong."
His advice for owners with a small obese dog, or one that has joint issues, is to fill up a bathtub and let it swim on the spot under supervision."
Hiking is another option, but be aware of your dog's health, have annual check-ups and be very wary of the heat. Sufficient water, shade and rest are crucial. "Before any dog goes into heat stress, they show signs such as slowing down, increased panting, reluctance to walk and becoming wobbly in the hind legs. If you're unsure, stop and rest, drench your dog in water, if possible; and consider turning back."
Taking your dog to a dog park is another option. For more information, visit the Leisure and Cultural Services Department website www.lcsd.gov.hk.
Quach emphasises that there are variables when it comes to individual dogs and exercise, and the most important thing is that an owner knows their dog and what behaviour can be considered normal.
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