Let’s get physical

Regular exercise is essential for the well-being of most pets. Experts at national pet charity Blue Cross have some top tips to maintain the physical – and mental – health of your furry friends


Dogs’ exercise needs change with age and vary depending on their breed and size. It helps to think about what they were bred for when determining the quantity and type of exercise they need. For example, Greyhounds are sprinters, so will benefit from two short off-lead runs per day. Terriers were bred to sniff out vermin and will enjoy off-lead exercise sniffing and digging. Retriever breeds will enjoy playing fetch. Active dogs, such as Border Collies, need lots of mental stimulation as well as physical exercise, and it is a good idea to consider activities like agility or obedience classes to keep them stimulated. All dogs will get much more out of 30 minutes off the lead in a safe, traffic-free environment, than they will from a 30-minute walk along a pavement on a lead.

Puppies’ bones are still soft and joints are still developing, so hard exercise and games that make them twist and turn suddenly are not advisable. For older dogs, regular short walks and gentle exercise will keep them mobile and fit. If you get a young dog as company for an old one, exercise them separately sometimes, as their needs will differ.

Exercise with your dog

Most dogs enjoy running, so if you’re heading out on a jog, you can take your dog along with you. However, it’s not a good idea to put a puppy’s body under the strain of jogging at a human pace because of the potentially life-long impact on their bones and joints.

Agility is fantastic physical and mental exercise for fully grown dogs, and great for growing the relationship between you, too, but the jumping, twisting and sprinting involved is not suitable for youngsters.

Dogs cannot enter agility competitions until they are 18 months old. Some agility clubs take older puppies from around nine months to introduce them to the sport, and will start with age-appropriate training, but for most, it’s from around a year. If in doubt, ask your vet.


All cats need exercise to help them stay healthy, happy and relaxed. How active your
cat is will depend on:

  • Age
  • Any health conditions Weight
  • Personality
  • Whether they are indoor or outdoor cats.

Outdoor cats usually get their exercise by
exploring, jumping and pouncing. However, play inside the home is still beneficial to your cat, as it is a great way of bonding with your pet and providing further mental stimulation.

Indoor cats need more opportunities to be active, as being bored may lead to unwanted behaviours. Actively encourage your cat to play and spend plenty of time every day playing with them. Kittens need lots of opportunities to be active. This keeps them occupied and builds strong muscles. They also need to learn skills such as chasing and climbing.

As your cat becomes older, they may slow down and their hearing and eyesight may get worse, so it becomes harder for them to exercise safely outdoors. Encourage gentle play indoors instead and your older cat will continue to enjoy it. It is really beneficial to keep cats active into old age.

Small animals

Small animals are often forgotten, but it is important that they are kept physically and mentally stimulated.

Rabbits need access to a run that will allow them to display their full range of behaviours, such as hopping, stretching and playing. They enjoy exploring, digging, running through tubes or pipes – some may even push around little plastic cat balls. You could try hiding small amounts of food around their housing to help keep them alert and active, but remember to remove any that doesn’t get found. You can also try cutting an entrance and exit hole in an old cardboard box so your rabbit can hop in and out of it.

Guinea pigs also require a run. They enjoy exploring boxes and running through tubes or pipes. You could hide small amounts of food around the cage to keep your guinea pigs alert and active.


Rabbits and guinea pigs are very social and it is important that they have a friend of their own kind and are not kept alone. However, you should never keep a rabbit and guinea pig together.

For more details or to find your nearest Blue Cross centre or hospital, visit bluecross.org.uk


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