In many parts of the world, a healthy diet and exercise is lacking. Each bring unique benefits- exercise support health in ways not found in a healthy diet. The inverse is also certainly true.
While the world homemade dog food is booming (which is fantastic!), exercise should be right up there in the list of top ways to support your dog. Exercise supports a healthy gut microbiome, healthy mental state, and is critical for preventing chronic illness. A life of exercise also supports your dog should disease manifest.
Raw Feeding Communities & Exercise
Anecdotally, those who are interested in canine nutrition tend to work harder at providing their dogs with exercise.. This is good news! There is still, as expected, a difference between how members feel about the quality of nutrition and physical activity their dog is receiving.
When asking Raw Fed & Nerdy and The Raw Feeding Community Pet Chat and The Raw Feeding Community Facebook groups (14k members, 13k members, and 86k members respectively), dog owners had to say a few things. In separate polls, members were asked if they felt their dog was getting the best nutrition possible given their circumstances (228 responded). The next poll asked if they felt their dog was getting enough physical activity to support health (515 responded).
The most common reasons given for not providing enough exercise includes:
- Not enough time (too busy)
- Owner related illness or injury
- Environment (weather)
feel their dog is getting optimal nutrition given their circumstances.
feel their dog is getting optimal physical activity to support health.
Larger studies indicate that the majority of dogs do not receive adequate physical activity.
Studies show that dog owners tend to receive more physical activity than non-dog owners!
Benefits of Regular Activity: Intertwined with Good Nutrition and Well-Being
The phrase is repeated plenty: Exercise helps promote healthy weight, prevent chronic illness (like cancer and diabetes), and supports longevity. We all wish our dogs could live longer and so many of us put an enormous effort into the nutrition of our animals.
The obvious benefit to physical activity is that it helps control weight and that by extension helps prevent the dog from being in a constant state of inflammation. A healthy weight can also control diseases that affect the joints.
However, there are benefits to physical exercise that affect nutrition- and some of these benefits cannot be unlocked to their full potential without physical activity. Some benefits are unique to physical activity alone.
Diversified Canine Gut Microbiome
While a diet of fresh food and plant matter is critical for a healthy gut, physical activity also promotes a healthy gut through diversity in good bacteria. As we increase our knowledge of gut health, diversity and promotion of beneficial bacteria is critical. You are what you eat- but really, you are what you absorb.
Management of Gut Related Illness
Tied directly to the gut microbiome, physical activity in dogs has been shown to improve the health of their gut. In fact, exercise has been used to dramatically improve the status of sedentary dogs suffering from chronic diarrhea.
For sedentary dogs who are able to move, a combination of physical movement, diet, prebiotics, and probiotics may be useful when battling chronic loose stools.
Check with your veterinarian before adopting a new exercise routine.
Improve joint health and lower risk of disease
Low impact physical activity helps lubricate the joints. While physical activity will need to be modified, appropriate exercise can help alleviate the symptoms of some joint diseases such as osteoarthritis. A life-time of appropriate physical activity helps keep the dog moving later in life and may prevent or delay the onset of some conditions that often effect our elderly pets. For many senior pets, moving is important. When health conditions are not limiting, getting your senior dog moving is one of the best things you can do.
A healthy heart: Prevention of disease
Prevention of Neurodegenerative diseases
Mental enrichment, which includes physical exercise, has been shown in humans to prevent devastating conditions that affect the brain later in life. Because research is showing the gut-brain connection in conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, it is not surprising that moving a bit more may help to reduce the risk of some conditions.
More research is being conducted on the benefits of physical activity and brain health in dogs. It would make sense that trends would be similar.
Prevention of Premature Death
Exercise in general in humans provides an overall reduced risk of chronic illness and death. In dogs and humans, exercise prevents diseases that remain in the top 3 causes of death. The best tools are to eat better and move more!
Certainly exercise can be a benevolent force on gut health. With research indicating that the gut is often the center of health, exercise should be upheld as a critical component to health and longevity.
Moving more is hard! With nutrition, we are able to do a few major preps a month and are done. Moving our dogs often means moving ourselves. Make reasonable goals and try to not dwell on things that are not possible in your circumstance- a common theme in many of the comments I read.
Make Reasonable Goals
Make measurable goals. Instead of “We will exercise more” try “We will try to take X amount of walks each week” or “We will take x amount of walks this week for x minutes.”
Start small and work up. Don’t forget to feel good! Any progress is excellent!
As you meet your goals, create new ones. Feel free to share your goals and successes in the group “Raw Fed & Nerdy Human Support Group” and “Raw Fed & Nerdy.” Remember that your successes encourage other dog owners.
How doable indoor activities are will depend on what your dog is interested in. Dogs not interested in toys will need more encouragement. With long work days, I keep a tennis ball nearby and whenever Luca shows interest the ball gets thrown. Larger living arrangements can facilitate games of hide and seek. Tilt boards, balance disks, balance stones, and varying sized boxes can all be used indoors. Committing to some time is better than no time. Time spent stepping over obstacles or alternating leg lifts are all conditioning activities. If you need help in this area, please do not hesitate to reach out to me!
Make Reasonable Goals
A Fitbark, a device that tracks your dog’s physical exercise and sleep, has been successful in motivating dog owners. Owners who used the device were influenced by the tangible results and were driven to meet goals and work on physical activity.
I will be sure to share our results in future posts!