It is no secret that exercise and a well portioned, nutritious diet are the keys to having a fit and healthy pet. In this post we will provide tips and discuss the benefits of both in greater detail.
We often say that “movement is life”, and it’s true! Animals were meant to move as a way to stimulate growth and metabolic functions. Thus, it is pretty easy to understand why exercise is so important. Whichever types of exercise you choose to do with your pet, the benefits are numerous. By exercising regularly, your pet will:
- Build strength, endurance, and agility
- Improve cardiovascular health
- Aid joint function and pain management (e.g. arthritis and other muscular-skeletal issues)
- Burn calories
- Feel better – exercise can lead to a feeling of euphoria through the release of Endocannabinoids (eCBs), chemicals produced naturally by the body during high intensity training – “runners high”
We think of diet in two ways: how much to feed your pet and what to feed your pet.
How much to feed your pet
We have two expressions that we use in the human fitness community that are appropriate here: “you can’t out exercise a poor diet” and “She didn’t get those abs from doing crunches”. Both of these sayings are meant to convey the simple fact that diet can impact body weight and leanness more than anything else, even exercise.
Why is this true? Basal metabolism. Basal metabolism is the rate at which your body burns calories just to stay alive and perform the most basic and necessary functions like respiration and circulation. Believe it or not, just being an animal takes a lot of energy (calories). In most cases, a dog or cat’s basal calorie burn will be far greater than their daily exercise burn. Some numbers might help illustrate this point.
A normal 50 lb. dog will burn somewhere around 725 calories per day even if they were bed-ridden and immobile, just to remain alive. They would burn somewhere between 50-100 calories a day extra if they exercised by walking or jogging for 30 minutes each day, depending on the pace. (Note: the dog would also burn some calories with daily movement- walking around the house, going outside to the bathroom, etc.)
Of course if your pet is very active, they can burn a lot more calories. In most normal cases, calories burned directly though exercise, while important to achieving and sustaining long term optimal weight, are not enough to justify unmeasured feeding. Make sure to measure your servings and account for treats!
What to feed your pet
This is can be a tricky question. With respect to short-term weight loss, in theory, it doesn’t really matter what your pet eats as long as they consume the correct number of calories. So if your dog is targeted to eat no more than 1,000 calories per day for their weight loss program, they could theoretically eat a bag of potato chips (or at least 1,000 calories worth) and still lose weight as long as they burned more than 1,000 calories total for that day.
But this would not be a sustainable scenario. Dog and cat’s bodies, need a balanced diet including adequate protein and other macro and micro nutrients. To best achieve this, your pet should eat as much ‘real’ food and as little processed and artificial food as possible – sort of like the Paleo diet- which focuses on eating real recognizable foods in their pure, not processed form.
Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, it is not always so straightforward. Commercial pet food labels can be a challenge to interpret. For example, there are foods on the market that use chicken in the food’s name even though they may have little or no real chicken in the recipe! And what about those mystery proteins that are often included in some dog foods? When was the last time that you saw a “meat” grazing a pasture or “poultry” laying an egg? Lastly, did you know that some foods contain artificial colorings, which have no health benefit and are believed to be detrimental to health…just because the food company wants you to like the way the food looks?! Trust me on this, your pet does not care what the food looks like! They see food, they eat food. It doesn’t matter if the food is brown, yellow, purple or any other color.