Adelaide’s days are getting shorter and cooler, and getting outdoors to walk your pooch may be becoming a little less appealing, especially after work. Your dog should get adequate exercise throughout the year however, and there are lots of ways to make exercise varied and interesting, and comfortable for you both in the cooler months.


It’s important that your dog doesn’t get out of shape from inactivity during winter. If your pooch ever has spells of inactivity for an extended period, you’ll need to ease him or her back into their exercise regime, and start slowly to help the rebuild muscle tone before returning to a normal level of strenuous outdoor exercise. Before we look at some exercise options in winter, we’ll discuss two issues that can result from inactivity and why it’s so important that exercise be maintained consistently.


1. Injury

Muscles can lose tone quickly when they’re not exercised, and studies indicate that they can start to lose strength in only a few days. It only takes a short while for your dog’s muscle to weaken and this can lead to injury. Resuming strenuous exercise after a winter break can lead to injury if it recommences suddenly.


Dog’s knees are prone to a number of injuries and one of the most common is a ruptured cruciate ligament. The three bones forming the joint of a knee are joined together by tough fibrous bands of tissue known as ligaments.  Two ligaments cross in the middle and are called cruciate (cross-shaped) ligaments. The one towards the front of the leg is called the anterior cruciate ligament.


When the anterior cruciate ligament is torn, the joint becomes unstable and the bones can move back and forth across each other. Anterior cruciate ligaments are commonly torn when dogs twist on their hind legs and twisting motion puts too much tension on the ligament and consequently tears it.


Damage to the anterior cruciate ligament can cause intense pain and create instability of the affected knee. Signs could be that dogs sit or lie with the injured leg in an awkward position and walk with stiffness and lameness. Torn anterior cruciate ligaments require surgery as they cannot repair themselves, which is why avoiding them is so important.


Going from a period of inactivity to “full throttle” is a recipe for disaster, and dogs will instinctively want to run around energetically after having been cooped up. The same principles of warming up before exercise applies for us, in order to avoid injury.


This is also relevant for dogs who get little activity during the week followed by highly active weekends. Key to maintaining muscle tone and strength, and avoiding injury, is consistency, and exercise every day is important to ensure that dogs remain in good condition. As an absolute minimum, most dogs should have 20 minutes of aerobic exercise three times per week.

2. Obesity

A lack of adequate exercise contributes to obesity, and it is an increasing issue in pets just as it is in humans. It can lead to a reduced quality of life and it predisposes animals to several potentially serious health issues, including an increased risk of anterior cruciate ligament injuries. As with people, obesity is caused by eating more food than is required and doing too little exercise. The energy that comes from the food that exceeds the animal’s metabolic needs is consequently stored as fat.


Being overweight makes exercise harder and increases injury risks

It’s not always easy to tell whether an animal is overweight, and the generally accepted metric indicating obesity is when an animal’s optimal body weight is exceeded by 15%. Vets can assess whether an animal is overweight by weighing and examining them. Correcting excessive bodyweight usually requires changing the type and quantity of food, and increasing exercise to increase the amount of energy burned. Your vet can help provide advice on diet and a suitable exercise routine to get pets back to a healthy weight.


As with all health care issues prevention is better than cure, and losing excess weight requires greater effort than preventing it in the first place. If an animal’s activity levels drop during winter, but their food intake doesn’t, they’ll gain weight. It is also important to note that food intake in winter doesn’t need to be increased just because the temperature has dropped. A balanced and kilojoule-controlled diet should be maintained year-round.


Regular Exercise is Important to Your Dog’s Health

Playing in the back yard seldom provides the level of aerobic exercise needed to maintain fitness. It’s a good start, and it’s important for their mental stimulation and for bathroom breaks, but dogs really need better quality exercise.


In order to maintain good skeletal health, there are a number of varied activities you can involve your dog in, and many are ideal for cooler weather. In addition to the good old walk, there are games of fetching balls and Frisbees, hiking, and if you’re going for a jog why not take your dog with you.


Dogs will generally enjoy exercising regardless of the weather, and they may potentially have more vigour in the cooler months when the oppressive heat of summer has passed.  Each of Adelaide’s seasons has its own unique appeal, and dogs find fun in chasing the leaves blowing through the park through autumn. Winter offers the opportunity for brisk walks in the crisp morning air, and if you maintain the same pace as your dog, you’ll be able to gauge when it becomes too cold and it’s time to head back inside.

Look for ways to reduce the “chore factor” in dog walking

Make winter time exercise manageable and enjoyable. Dogs often don’t get the exercise they need, not because they’re unwilling, but because we are.  Getting up half an hour earlier in the morning, when the sun is up and you’re feeling fresh and rested, might be better for your schedule than at the end of the day when you’re tired and you’ve worked back late.


Don’t forget other resources, such as professional dog walking services, neighbours who also have dogs, and responsible and reliable neighbourhood kids who might appreciate some dog-walking pocket money. If getting out every day for a walk with your dog is a challenge, then look for ways to share the load with other dog owners. If you can manage two dogs at a time, you could offer to walk each other’s dogs on alternate days.


If on the other hand, you’re raring to get outside and hit the footpath yourself, try swapping a sedate walk for something more intense. Interval training, which is short and intense bursts of physical activity, alternated with low-intensity recovery periods, will boost fitness and metabolism for both you and your dog. Try 20 second intervals of more strenuous activity between intervals of one minute of walking. During the high-intensity bursts try jogging or sprints, sideways shuffles, or running backwards to lift your heartrate. Your dog, provided they’re fit and healthy, will keep up the pace and it’s a great way to fit a valuable work out into a short amount of time.


Every bit helps

The reality of winter weather is of course, that there will be days when you can’t go out, and if you must stay in there are still lots of activities to give your dog some exercise. Tugs-of-war can provide a work-out, as can playing fetch along a hallway, or racing each other up and down the stairs. They may not be as beneficial as getting out for brisk walk but they can help provide mental stimulation and break the boredom for your dog of being housebound. Be creative and vary the games, and let them win sometimes if there’s a contest, otherwise they’ll lose interest.


If you have a small dog and a big bath, then you have… a swimming pool! It may be one of the more off-beat winter exercise ideas, but swimming is a great low-impact exercise and a bath full of warm water could be just the thing for dogs that like swimming. You’ll need to keep an eye them the whole time they’re in the tub, and dry them as soon as they get out.

Gear up and be safe when going outside for exercise

There are some groovy coats for dogs, and if you own a short-haired breed you may want to consider one for your pooch before going for a cold-weather walk.  If you’re in an area that gets frost or ice be particularly careful of slippery patches, and if your dog lifts his paws more frequently while walking then it could be a sign that it’s too cold.


Extra care is required if you’re taking your dog to areas with snow. Injuries can occur from sharp objects hidden by the snow, and check between your dog’s toes for ice that can build-up and become painful. As soon as you get back indoors wipe your dog’s paws clean using a warm damp towel to remove salt and toxic substances that may have been used on ice and snow. Warm moist towels can also be used to safely thaw frozen pads.


Antifreeze is commonly used in car radiators in cold weather and the active ingredient, ethylene glycol, is an odourless liquid with a sweet taste. It is a poisonous chemical and a small amount can be lethal to dogs and cats. Antifreeze ingestion can occur if animals drink from puddles in which it’s been spilt, or if they get the contaminated water on their paws or coats, and subsequently lick if off while grooming. Symptoms of poisoning include lack of coordination, thirst, excessive urination, vomiting, and seizures. If you suspect your pet has been poisoned, seek immediate veterinary assistance.


If you’re taking your dog out in the snow, it’s safest to keep them on a lead. Dogs can become lost easily in the snow, and whether they’re leashed or not, they should be microchipped and be wearing identification tags.


There are no excuses for us and our dogs to become couch potatoes this winter. There are plenty of fun activities to keep them fit, even when it is a little bleak outside. Forward planning and variety go a long way in making exercise enjoyable and once a routine is established, it’s much easier to maintain. As always, if you have any concerns about your dog’s fitness and ability to participate, or any injury they sustained, help is only a call away.