Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine’s ‘Club Chub’ program offers advice for introducing pet fitness activities safely

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With spring upon us, everyone’s attention is turning to fitness, and it’s important to remember fitness benefits pets, too. April is “Canine Fitness Month,” and Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine says now is a time for pet owners to be aware of how to safely introduce increased activity for their four-legged friends.

“Dog owners need to let their pets return to increased exercise in a safe manner,” says Liz Hodson, a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner and licensed veterinary technician, who leads the Physical Rehabilitation Service at the college’s Wilford and Kate Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital.

“Dogs are not unlike people, in that they tend to get more sedentary during the winter months,” Hodson said. “With the warmer temperatures and nicer weather coming on, pet owners are beginning to let their dogs exercise more, but the thing to remember is that those activities need to be ramped up slowly and safely.”

Dogs may also have put on a little extra weight during winter. Losing that weight—and doing so in a healthy manner—is important, Hodson adds.

Hodson directs the teaching hospital’s Club Chub program, operated through the Physical Rehabilitation Service, a resource pet owners can use to help manage their dog’s excess weight and put their pet on a diet and exercise program that is safe and healthy.

Poochie, an 8-year-old toy poodle, is one of the program’s most recent participants. Poochie had a serious weight problem, and suffered related complications. She was admitted into the Chub Club program last September, but in December, Poochie’s owner became ill and surrendered the poodle to be fostered.

“Poochie was a client-owned dog that had been surrendered to the college for foster care when her owner became ill,” said fourth-year veterinary student Stephanie Siegwald of Louisville, Kentucky.

Siegwald began fostering Poochie in December and, in February, officially adopted her as her own pet. “Poochie had gained excessive weight because she had not been on a proper diet and exercise program,” Siegwald said. “She had been allowed to eat table food and she had begun to not only suffer being overweight, but she was having trouble simply doing routine physical activities.”

Since starting the Chub Club program, Poochie has dropped 11 pounds and is now able to resume walks and other routine activities that were previously troublesome for her.

Chub Club was launched in 2015 and, since that time, has helped some 20 patients through its regimen of prescribed diet and exercise, according to Hodson.

Canine fitness is important and dogs need a more active lifestyle when warmer weather is approaching. Hodson has a mission of educating dog owners about doing so in a safe way and provides the following advice:

  • Before starting a diet or exercise program make sure your veterinarian okays your plan to ensure it is safe for your pet;

  • Introduce your dog to a low-impact exercise regimen;

  • Build up the duration slowly as your dog’s muscles get used to being more active;

  • Be mindful of reduced stamina in your dog after a winter lag;

  • Be aware of hotter walking surfaces;

  • Decrease your dog’s calorie intake and make sure its diet is a balanced one; and

  • Maintaining adequate hydration is important. Ensure your dog has sufficient water.

“It is extremely important to not overfeed a dog,” Hodson said. “And, use an appropriate measuring container when portioning out the dog’s food. A coffee mug is not necessarily equivalent to a cup.”

Dog owners interested in learning more about Chub Club can contact the Physical Rehabilitation Service at the Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital.

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The College of Veterinary Medicine is the South's original and nation's seventh oldest veterinary medical program, celebrating 126 years. We prepare individuals for careers of excellence in veterinary medicine, including private and public practice, industrial medicine, academics, and research. The college provides programs of instruction, research, outreach, and service that are in the best interests of the citizens of the state of Alabama, the region, the nation, and the world.