BOSTON — If Rover isn't getting a regular workout, he could face the same physical and psychological problems associated with being out of shape that people face, animal specialists say.
"There is a misconception that the dog is always in good shape," said Ray McSoley, an animal behavior specialist in Boston. "But speaking to veterinarians, their response is that the majority of dogs they see are in lousy physical condition."
"It's very common," said Gus Thornton, chief of staff at Boston's Angell Memorial Animal Hospital. "It's the same for all pets, be it a mouse or a guinea pig or birds."
Lack of exercise and too much food often leads to obesity, which can cause complications in older animals, including those associated with joint problems and heart disease, Thornton said.
Besides, "having a dog that's physically fit makes for a happier dog," McSoley said.
"Obviously some kind of consistent exercise on a daily basis is an important thing. It's as important as it is to humans," he said.
The Wrong Workout
Animals often are given the wrong sort of workout, and that may cause as much harm as good, he said.
Some pet owners allow their animals to be sedentary during the week and then exercise them vigorously on weekends, McSoley said.
"From a psychological viewpoint the dog may be able to overcome the strain because he's got so much pent-up energy, but that doesn't mean it's a good thing," he said.
And some people insist on activities that are too strenuous for their pets, said Thornton.
"People think because it's an animal they can't do any damage to it in terms of exercise--that the dog will know its limit, but he won't. He'll continue to follow the owner," McSoley said.
Signs of a Pooped Pooch
He said signs that a pooch is pooped generally include a drooping tail and hard panting.
Another problem is the "marathon dog"--an animal that spends part of the year out of doors, often at a summer home, and then returns to confined quarters.
"For three or four months, they've conditioned the dog. He's so used to exercise it might take him some time to wind down," he said. And that can lead to behavioral problems.
"We can end up with a frustrated dog," he said. The dog may begin to have barking problems, take to digging up the backyard, or pacing in the house.