EXERCISE FOR DOGS ESSENTIAL FOR HEALTH & WELL-BEING By Dr. Michael W. Fox
Some animal shelters and animal holding facilities still provide insufficient or no exercise for incarcerated dogs. Veterinary clinical researchers have recently documented the benefits to dogs living a sedentary life and suffering from chronic diarrhea of putting them on an exercise regimen*. Turn these findings around and they mean that dogs who do receive regular exercise are more likely to enjoy better health than those who are confined, as in an in-home dog crate, commercial kennels, animal shelter or research laboratory cage.
From behavioral observations of my own dogs they will pass a few stools when let outdoors in the morning to urinate but only when they are aroused and setting off for a long, fast walk do they fully empty their bowels. Living a sedentary life, rarely aroused and often being trained to evacuate inside especially when living in high-rise apartments or confined in a cage or pen could well lead to longer retention times of fecal material prior to evacuation with resultant inflammation of the bowels. Physical activity may also help improve circulation and help alleviate and prevent lymphangectasia, the accumulation of lymph in the bowels seen in some forms of canine inflammatory bowel disease.
The two veterinarians in Taiwan who documented the benefits in small breed dogs living a sedentary life and suffering from chronic diarrhea put them on an exercise regimen in addition to standard prednisolone treatment. This was after other dietary treatments (hydrolysed and hypoallergenic elimination diets) and various supplements either failed or only partially improved their inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Although this was a small study in part inspired by the clinical improvement in human patients suffering from IBD who are able to participate in a regular exercise program, it offers a safe and potentially effective additional therapeutic approach to this all too common canine condition.
From behavioral observations of my own dogs they will pass a few stools when let outdoors in the morning to urinate but only when they are aroused and setting off for a long, fast walk or safe and legal off-leash romp do they fully empty their bowels. Dogs living a sedentary life, rarely aroused and often being trained to evacuate inside especially when living in high-rise apartments, could well lead to longer retention times of fecal material prior to evacuation with resultant inflammation of the bowels, exacerbated by various dietary ingredients and their metabolites with further possible health problems due to bacterial endotoxins. Physical activity may also help improve circulation and help alleviate and prevent lymphangectasia, the accumulation of lymph in the bowels seen in some forms of canine IBD.
Mental arousal with physical activity may increase peristaltic tonus that may be relatively flaccid with parasympathetic dominance as with a placid temperament and an unstimulating indoor environment. Sympathetic/parasysmpathetic balance and adaptive flexibility of the autonomic nervous system are aspects of well-being that are considerable and clinically relevant. ( For references see Fox, 1978). Megacolon and fecal impaction, commonly seen in understimulated and underactive indoor cats, and weak urinary bladder tonus with urine retention and consequential cystitis may be other conditions related to parasympathetic dominance/imbalance.
Considering the multiple stressors to which dogs taken in to animal shelter/rescue facilities are exposed, this veterinary report* on the health benefit of exercise for dogs supports what should be a standard policy of providing all dogs with regular brisk walks, ideally twice daily for 15-20 minutes. Those under quarantine should be taken out to enclosed areas for walks and running unless medically contraindicated. Safety harnesses are preferable for dogs not used to wearing a collar and those who are fearful or likely to pull and injure their necks and throats. Walking on the leash also socializes dogs to their handlers and is the time to train them to comply with basic commands which will enhance their adoptability. Walking with a sociable “buddy dog” used to being leashed can help shy dogs accept and eventually enjoy walks while leashed.
Dogs out of quarantine also benefit from being placed in small, compatible play groups in recognition of the benefits of physical activity and social and emotional stimulation. Running stimulates the release of “feel good” opioids, cannabinoids and anti-inflammatory neurochemicals. Many shelters are also adopting group housing for dogs, which, along with regular walks and one-on-one and group human interaction, enhance their adaptability and adoptability.
In the U.S. Federal Animal Welfare Act (I. Exercise for dogs (Sect. 3.8) ) it is clearly stated that dogs must be provided the opportunity to engage in regular exercise, stating: “Dealers, exhibitors, and research facilities must develop, document, and follow an appropriate plan to provide dogs with the opportunity for exercise. The plan must be approved by the attending veterinarian and must include written standard procedures to be followed in providing the opportunity for exercise”. (https://www.nal.usda.gov/awic/animal-welfare-act-quick-reference-guides#Q10)
In conclusion, private and municipal animal shelters that do not make such provisions and are not open to public assessment of standard animal care procedures may be in violation of state and federal anti-cruelty laws. They are also violating the conditional responsibility of properly caring for animals that the public has entrusted to them.
*See Huang, H-P. & Lien, Y-H. Effects of a structured exercise programme in sedentary dogs with chronic diarrhea. Veterinary Record, 180: 224. 2017 and the Editorial my Dunning, M. Improving IBD in dogs through exercise. Veterinary Record, 180: 222-223, 2017.