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SPCA Targets Canine Couch Potatoes


For release: 16 July 2003


Some of the nation's dogs could degenerate into unhealthy canine couch potatoes, if owners respond to tough new leash laws by cutting back on exercise opportunities.

"With the cold winter months upon us, it's always tempting to stay indoors and not take your dog for a walk. That temptation is all the greater now that dogs have to be kept on a lead in public places. But it's a temptation that needs to be resisted, both for your sake and your dog's," warns the Royal New Zealand SPCA's Veterinary Adviser, Marjorie Orr.

"Just like humans, dogs who don't exercise sufficiently can quickly become obese. This can lead to heart problems and contribute to diabetes and a range of other conditions. Arthritis and deteriorating muscles can also become serious issues. But, unlike humans, dogs can't just make a decision to exercise and then get on with it. They're completely dependent on their owners for their exercise opportunities" says Dr Orr.

"Regular exercise is essential for almost all dogs and in most cases it certainly won't do their owners any harm either. However, just because the law requires your dog to be on a lead, that doesn't mean that you have to keep your intelligent, curious four-footed friend constantly at your heel like a walking automaton.

"Sniffing around the environment is one of the greatest joys in a dog's life. If you use an extendable lead, your dog should be able to blissfully explore the local smells and get the most out of the walk both emotionally and physically, whilst still remaining under adequate control," she says, adding that adequate toilet stops are also necessary.

Dr Orr also recommends that dog owners make regular use of areas where leads are not required, including designated parks. She also urges owners to fence their gardens properly so that dogs can enjoy maximum freedom to exercise around home.

"Another important point to remember is that not all dogs require the same amount of exercise. Age, physical condition and breed are all important factors in deciding both how much your dog should exercise and how strenuous that exercise should be. Obviously a large, young dog from a working breed will need far more physical activity than an elderly lap dog. But even your cuddly old pooch is still a red-blooded dog deep down inside and does need to scamper about a bit.

"However, just as it's cruel to deprive a dog of exercise, it's also cruel to suddenly launch it into large amounts of hearty activity without first building up its strength and capacity. It's disturbing to see dogs desperately trying to keep up with owners who are cycling or jogging, particularly on tarmac. Just like humans, dogs need to adjust gradually to a new exercise regime and the soles of their feet take time to toughen up for exercise on hard surfaces ," says Dr Orr.

"A certain amount of common sense and good judgement is needed to work out just how much exercise your dog needs. But, with many dogs, there is a useful guide to establishing whether they're overweight and would benefit from gradual exposure to more exercise.

"If you're looking down on a smooth-haired dog, you should see a slight suggestion of a waist behind the ribs. If it discernible, more exercise and less food are almost certainly to be recommended. But any weight loss should be over a long period of time, and if the dog is seriously overweight, it is best to seek veterinary advice," she adds.


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