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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Exercise Benefits All Pets: Help Physically Challenged Animals Stay Healthy

Aug 03, 2016 12:22AM ● By Mary Oquendo

Due to advances in veterinary care, many pets are living longer with an overall better quality of life and now even handicapped pets are beginning to reap the benefits of such advances.

The word “handicapped” indicates a condition that restricts the ability of a pet to function physically. Handicaps can include mobility issues such as blindness, neurological or spinal disorders, or loss of limb. In addition, it may involve temporary circumstances, such as surgeries, illness and injuries. Being handicapped does not preclude the necessity of exercise for these pets.

“Regular exercise is imperative for handicapped or injured pets. Dogs with chronic arthritis or ligament injuries will benefit from routine exercise. The movement maintains proper muscle tone, as well as strengthening the tissue surrounding the problem areas. Without appropriate physical conditioning, these pets may see a significant decrease in quality of life due to increased pain and discomfort,” states Andrew Pickerstein, DVM.

As pet parents, it is necessary to recognize our own expectations and not let our biases unknowingly negatively impact our animals’ quality of life. All pets should get exercise, especially those with disabilities or movement restrictions. Exercise improves strength, reduces stress that causes behavior challenges and provides healing energy.

Exercise can benefit our pets by:

• Strengthening their joints and muscles so they are more limber and agile.

• Improving their digestive system so they are less likely to suffer from constipation.

• Reducing destructive behaviors and hyperactivity. Like us, essentially they become too tired to cause trouble.

• Helping to keep them at a healthy weight.

• Reducing the likelihood of chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart, respiratory and kidney disease. All of these are exacerbated when a pet is overweight.

• Increasing cognitive function. Cardiovascular exercise not only improves the heart, but brain tissue as well.

“Handicapped dogs are so resilient, they usually figure out how to work around their impediment and live a full and active life. Yet providing proper exercise and food portions to keep their weight in check is so critical, and even more so for handicapped pets than normal pets,” says Steve Pelletier, founder of and a former pet parent to a blind rescue dog. “A fat dog has a harder time getting around and their lives are generally harder than a fit and trim pet. Why would an owner of a handicapped dog add another unnecessary level of difficulty to their dog’s life?”

The most important consideration in exercising a handicapped pet is choosing the right type of exercise for the situation. Seek guidance from a professional to develop a therapeutic program that is designed to work with a pet’s limitations. They can demonstrate how to do the right exercises and help provide equipment recommendations to fit the pet’s needs.

Any exercise is good, whether it is walking, hiking, swimming, playing, running or even using exercise equipment. There are companies that make treadmills, agility equipment, exercise vests for therapeutic resistance training, and gym gear for strength, endurance and balance for pets. Let’s not forget mental exercise. Mental exercise includes hiding treats around the home or buying toys where the pet has to figure out how to get the treat out.

Before beginning a new exercise program with handicapped pets, it is best to discuss it with a veterinarian first because there may be circumstances than require special attention. These can include breathing issues that short-nosed dogs may have during exercise or inflamed arthritic joints, as well as heart and respiratory issues, which may limit the duration of exercise.

In general, resistance exercises are great for developing strength and can be performed at various degrees of difficulty. For dogs with hearing or sight challenges, cardiovascular exercise can still be performed but different cues and equipment can be used. Flexibility exercises are great for handicapped pets that have limited range of motion and can be performed daily to increase blood flow and circulation, says Krista Wickens, president of FitPAWS/FitBALL/Ball Dynamics (

Mary Oquendo is a Reiki master, advanced crystal master and certified master pet tech pet first aid instructor. She is the owner of Hands and Paws-Reiki for All. She can be reached at See ad, page 27.

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