How Much Exercise Does Your Pet Need?

More than half of dogs and cats in America are overweight or obese. Weight issues for pets shorten their lives by 22 months, on average, so ensuring your pet gets enough exercise isn’t just a good idea – it’s extending the amount of time you get with your best friend. Dennis the miniature dachshund used to be severely obese, clocking in at 56 pounds packed onto his tiny frame. He was overeating human foods and could barely move. Over the past two years, his new pet mama, Brooklyn Burton, has helped Dennis get into shape through diet and exercise.

Just like humans, pets need daily exercise to be happy and healthy. Dogs and cats are descendants of wild animals, who needed to run, hunt, defend their homes, protect their young and ensure their survival. Even with domestication, pets have traditionally been family workers: herding sheep, hunting, guarding the home and catching rodents.

However, modern pets often have a much easier life: food is provided in a bowl, offspring is cared for by humans (and many pets never reproduce at all), home security systems guard the house and there are no sheep in sight. Coming from such a proud tradition, it’s no wonder that dogs and cats begin to display destructive behavior if they’re cooped up too long without any exercise.

9 Signs Your Pet Isn’t Getting Enough Exercise:

  1. Hyperactivity and excitability (some pet owners call this “the night crazies”)
  2. Unruly behavior, like knocking things over and jumping on people
  3. Investigating the home, knocking over trash cans, shredding toilet paper and making messes
  4. Destructive chewing, scratching and digging
  5. Biting during play, aggression when playing
  6. Barking, meowing or whining for attention
  7. Excessively grooming themselves, sometimes licking all the fur off
  8. Seeming depressed or low-energy, napping too much
  9. Overeating, becoming overweight or obese

Truthfully, many behavior issues stem from not getting enough exercise and can be resolved with increasing daily activity.

Some breeds of dogs and cats need special consideration when pet parents are designing ways to play. For example, breeds with very short snouts (like bulldogs and Persian cats) may have trouble breathing if they are over-exerted. Other breeds, such as Great Danes and Rottweilers, are prone to hip dysplasia, a painful joint condition which can be exacerbated by running on smooth floors. Finally, young pets (under 2 years old) should avoid high-impact exercise such as long distance running, to avoid harming their developing bones.

If your pet isn’t used to exercising, you may need to ease them into a regimen. Taking a sedentary dog on a three mile hike, for example, would only frustrate you both. Veterinarians typically recommend starting with two 10-minute sessions daily when beginning an exercise program for a sedentary pet, but you should check with your veterinarian for a specialized recommendation.

How Much Daily Exercise Does My Pet Need?

Nearly all pets benefit from two sessions daily, splitting the total daily time needed into a morning and evening regimen.

Kittens: 30 minutes

Cats: 30 to 60 minutes

Puppies: 5 minutes per month of age (for example, a 3 month old puppy would need two daily sessions of 15 minutes), low-impact exercises only

Small Breed Dogs: 20 to 60 minutes

Large Breed Dogs: 45 to 90 minutes

Terriers (all sizes): 60 to 90 minutes

Hunting, Herding & Sport Dogs: 90 minutes to 3 hours

Just like people, your pets will need to build stamina to be able to complete their daily workouts. Start slowly, with low-impact exercises such as swimming or indoor play, and ease up to a full workout.

Your pets know their own bodies and how much they can handle. If your pet sits down, seems to be overheating and is panting or becomes distressed, do not force them to continue. Let your pet rest before trying again.

Ideas for Fun Pet Exercise

You don’t need to stick to walks to get your pet’s daily exercise in. Mix it up and have fun, remembering to engage their brains as well as their bodies with games and puzzles.

Use healthy treats to entice pets to play and reward them for good behavior, but remember not to overfeed. Carrots and green beans are some of Dennis’ favorites.

Puppies and Dogs:

  • Walks, runs and hikes
  • Walking up and down the stairs
  • Swimming
  • Dog treadmill
  • Chasing a laser pointer
  • Fetch, tug and chasing balls
  • Jumping over obstacles, such as a cardboard box
  • Tracking treats (hide treats under a piece of paper or in a box, and watch your pup try to find them)
  • “Doga” – yoga with your dog
  • Dancing together
  • “Skijor” – a combination of cross-country skiing and mushing

Kittens and Cats:

  • Lay out a cardboard box or paper bag for kitty to explore – if she is hesitant, crinkle the edges to pique her curiosity
  • Entice your cat to chase a feather toy on a string
  • Stuff a small toy with catnip
  • Dangle ribbon, yarn or rope (but don’t leave these items out for solo play)
  • Treat dispensers – DIY by cutting a hole in one side of a small box and placing treats inside
  • Hide treats around the house for kitty to find
  • Cat obstacle courses and cat trees
  • Chasing a laser pointer
  • Bathtub Hockey – toss a ball in your (dry!) bathtub and watch your cat chase it around
  • Cat “hamster” wheel or cat treadmill

Above all, have fun spending time with your pet! If you’re having a good time and bonding with your pet, you will both benefit.

Use hashtag #MoveThosePaws to share photos and videos of you and your pet exercising, and share your tips with us!

Always consult your veterinarian before beginning or changing your pet’s exercise regimen. 

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.

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