Tips for a Healthy Dog: My Favorite Things for Keeping A Dog Fit and Healthy

Owners are always on the lookout for ways to keep their dogs in top shape.

Tips for a Healthy Dog: My Favorite Things for Keeping A Dog Fit and Healthy

Keeping your dog fit and free from pain will ensure a lifetime of good health.

Here is a list of my favorite things to help maintain good fitness and joint health, based on years of experience with products and resources while finding out which are effective! I’ve organized these into basic categories covering all elements of complete fitness.

1. Flexibility

Stretching a dog can be challenging and best done with direct instruction from a PT or veterinarian. But there are some good books on the market to guide you. The shoulders, hips, and hocks are primary joints to keep a good range of motion and muscle balance.

Tips for a Healthy Dog: Flexibility

Focus on the psoas, hamstring, deltoid and gastrocnemius muscles. Go gently and hold each stretch 1-3 seconds, repeat 5 times per muscle per side. Check out the following resources

  1. The Healthy Way to Stretch Your Dog: A Physical Therapy Approach, by Ashley Foster and Sasha Foster
  2. All Hands on Pet!: Your How-To Guide on Home Physical Therapy Methods for Pets (full disclosure, I am the author),
  3. Stretching the Performance Dog DVD by Debbie Gross Saunders, PT.

2. Strengthening

Cavaletti Rails can be purchased as a set of bars, connected with cones. They can be spaced a certain height and distance apart, depending on the dog size. You might substitute these using a ladder or broom/mop handles for the dog to step across and over. Cavaletti rails strengthen the hip flexor, hamstrings, biceps, and deltoids.

Tips for a Healthy Dog: Strengthening
Cookie doing cavaletti exercises for her rehab

BIKO Bands, found at are progressive resistive bands. They attach to the D-ring of a Roman type dog harness, and provide a unique concentric/eccentric muscle strengthening method for the swing-thru hind limb and the stance phase hind limb simultaneously! The front limbs get a secondary workout in the process. You might think of this product as only for dogs with neurological problems such as DM or IVDD. But the product is effective as a training and strengthening device for healthy dogs too!

Dog Strengthening Tools: Resistance Bands
BIKO Bands

3. Endurance

The best method for this requires no product. It is simply, the leash walk. Controlling your dog’s speed helps ensure your dog’s correct uses of muscles. The strategies include

  • varied surfaces, terrains and uneven surfaces
  • level and slopes or hills

Adding burst intervals of faster speed for 3-5 minutes every 10-15 minutes of regular pace will build endurance.

Trotting and running on a leash is a good way for owner and dog to build endurance together. For galloping, I recommend the dog be off leash and in an open, safe area. Watch your local ordinances for safety and what is allowed off-leash.

4. Balance and Core

The K9FitBone, made by FitPAWS is a great device to work on the dog’s core and overall balance and coordination. You can use toys or treats to stimulate the dog to place one or 2 paws atop the K9FitBone while maintaining its balance with the remaining paw points of contact on the ground.

Canine Balance and Core Exercises: FITBone

Have the dog step over or around the bone and to fully advance the exercise, place the dog atop the bone for balance and core stability exercise.  FitPAW Pods are also an effective product for individual limb control and proprioception. Lay the flat side of the pod down to start, and then make it more challenging by placing the rounded dome side down!

5. Treating acute pain and inflammation

When sudden small sprains and strains take place, your veterinary office should be the first place to go, to have serious injury ruled out. Then, if you prefer to treat pain and inflammation without medication or as an adjunct to meds, I recommend targeted Pulsed Electromagnetic Field therapy. In particular, I use a product called Assisi Loop from Assisi Animal Health.

The Assissi loop in an NSAID – Non-Pharmaceutical Anti-Inflammatory

There is scientific evidence that it relieves aches and pain quickly, by releasing nitric oxide and improving blood flow.

Treating canine acute pain and inflammation: Assisi loop
Assisi loop

It can be used several times per day right at home! I have experience using the Assisi loop extensively for my own patients having difficult bone healing and recommend it often to use at home between therapy visits. The Assisi loop can be prescribed by your veterinarian or animal physical therapist.

Massage is another good home treatment, but please use light pressure and seek instruction from your health care professional. You can also check out The Complete Dog Massage Manual: Gentle Dog Care by Julia Robertson.

6. Maintaining good Joint Health

The ‘big three’ are antioxidants, cartilage support, and omega fatty acid supplements.

Anti-oxidants target free radicals and help control micro-inflammation naturally and can be found in milk thistle, avocado, and turmeric products.

Cartilage support is found in products containing glucosamine and chondroitin supplements and as ingredients in some commercial dog food. These help strengthen the matrix within articular cartilage which covers surfaces of major weight-bearing joints.

Omega fatty acids reduce the production of inflammatory chemicals in blood vessel walls (particularly arteries), help increases blood flow to lubricate joints and keep other border surfaces smooth.  They are found in fish oils, plankton products and plant-based sources such as coconut oil, hemp oil, and flaxseed.

7. Other stuff

Best to keep your dog’s nails clipped and any long hairs growing between the paw digits trimmed, to avoid slipping on tile and wood floors to prevent injury. Maintain good hydration and reasonable body weight all year round. Here’s to your dog’s best health and fitness!

Related articles:
Dog Physical Therapy: New, New, Cool Things!
Canine Core Strengthening Exercises: Paring Down to the Canine Core

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