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PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND CANCER RISK IN DOGS

Living with a dog enriches your life and provides numerous physical and mental health benefits. The owner-dog relationship requires you to ensure your dog stays healthy, strong, and fit through regular exercise. Big or small, all dogs are meant to lead active lives. For instance, wild dogs spend most of their day hunting and scavenging for food. The domestication of dogs served several purposes, including hunting, farming, and providing protection. As a result, dogs maintained a highly active lifestyle. However, these days pet dogs mostly lead sedentary lives while consuming more calories than they can burn.
 

Exercise for dogs

Just like people, dogs must receive regular exercise to stay healthy. Lack of exercise can lead to numerous physical health complications (muscular pain and osteoarthritis), diseases (diabetes and obesity), and behavioral problems (irritability). Additionally, there is growing scientific evidence which suggests that along with genetic and environmental causes, reduced physical activity can also influence the development of cancer in pet dogs.

This article discusses the importance of physical activity and how its absence can be a risk factor for cancer in pet dogs. We will consider the optimal exercise requirements for dogs based on several factors, such as breed and age.
 

How does a lack of physical activity lead to cancer in dogs?

Lack of physical activity, or sedentary behavior, is a significant risk factor that can lead to weight gain and obesity, directly contributing to the development and progression of cancer in dogs (primarily mammary and bladder cancers). Alarmingly, the prevalence of obesity is steadily increasing in pet dogs. Estimates suggest that approximately 54% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese, which increases to 65% in the United Kingdom.

Several proposed mechanisms explain how weight gain or obesity can promote carcinogenesis. With obesity comes the accumulation of excessive fat in the body. These fat deposits can release various cancer-promoting biological molecules that can trigger abnormal growth of cells or prevent the destruction of damaged or old cells, leading to cancer development. Obesity can also enhance the levels of insulin circulating in the blood, associated with the activation of mechanisms that can promote cell growth and suppress programmed death of damaged cells, subsequently leading to cancer. In addition, obesity can influence the levels of hormones that fat cells (adipocytes) release, such as leptin, which may have an important role in promoting cancer progression.
 

How can physical activity prevent cancer in dogs?

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in dogs. However, you can take several steps to minimize cancer risk in your dog by making good health choices. Regularly exercising your dog is one of them. Reports show that regular physical activity elicits a variety of biological effects, including the following:

    1. Prevention of obesity, which is a potential risk factor for different kinds of cancer.
    1. Reduced inflammation, which is a characteristic feature of numerous cancer types.
    1. Improvement of lymph circulation (a colorless fluid containing white blood cells that fight against infections). Studies show that poor lymph circulation may lead to inflammation and cancer development.
    1. Reduced circulating levels of hormones such as estrogen and insulin, thus reducing the risk of cancer development.
    1. Enhanced release of the adiponectin hormone from fat cells, protecting against cancer.
    1. Decreased secretion of the hormone leptin from fat cells, which is associated with mammary tissue cancer.

How much physical activity should dogs have?

Making sure your dog is physically active will help promote a healthy life for your pet. Vets suggest at least 30 minutes to 1 hour of daily exercise for your dog. The optimal exercise amount for a dog is determined by many different factors, such as the breed, age, and overall health of the dog, as described below:

    • The breed factor: Highly energetic breed types, such as Retrievers, Collies, and Shepherds, require no less than 60 to 90 minutes of strenuous exercise sessions at least once daily. Exercise may include running, playtime with other dogs, training in agility sports, swimming, or hiking. In contrast, less active breeds like toy breeds (for example, Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, and Chihuahuas), giant breeds (for example, Great Danes, Mastiffs, and Newfoundland Dogs), and breeds with very short snouts (for example, Pugs, French Bulldogs, and Shih Tzus) require only a moderate amount of physical activity (30-60 minutes a day). Moderate exercise may include walking around the neighborhood, swimming, or engaging in low-intensity games.
    • The age factor: Dogs require different amounts of exercise throughout their lives. Puppies have exercise requirements that differ from older dogs of the same breed, whereas senior dogs may have special needs and considerations based on their health.
      • Puppies are highly energetic, but too much exercise can affect their growing bones and joints. Experts recommend a ratio of 5 minutes of exercise per month of age up to twice daily until the puppy is full-grown. For example, a 3-month-old puppy exercises for 15 minutes twice a day, while an 8-month-old dog exercises for 40 minutes daily, twice a day. You can increase the extent of physical activity once your pup stops growing. A short walk, swimming, and games of fetch with small exercise balls are some excellent exercise choices for puppies.
      • Adult dogs (2 or 3 years of age) have many options in terms of physical activities. Typically, they require a minimum of 30 minutes to 2 hours of daily exercise. Activities could include hiking, relay-race games, and agility sports.
      • Senior dogs commonly prefer being sedentary, making them more prone to weight gain. They tend to tire more quickly, and their joints have less flexibility as they age. Dogs are in their senior years from the age of 7 or 8. However, this age can vary between breed types depending on the average life expectancy for that breed. Old dogs enjoy a short, leisurely walk for approximately 30 minutes daily.
    • The health factor: Underlying health conditions such as arthritis in senior dogs can severely limit the extent to which they can exercise. Therefore, it is important to follow guidance from your vet on the exercise needs of your senior dog.

 
Conclusion

Although exercise is vital for your dog’s health, it is advisable not to force your dog to perform physical activities that are too strenuous. Starting slow and then building the amount and intensity of exercise is a good strategy. Be aware that your dog should be feeling tired but not exhausted at the end of the exercise session. Lastly, it is always better to talk to your vet to design an exercise regime for your dog’s requirements based on age, breed, and any existing health complications.

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Last Updated: June 23, 2022

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