Around a fifth of adults in the UK smoke and according to research by the British Heart Foundation less than half of men and only a third of women meet recommendations for physical activity. Both lifestyle choices are accepted to be detrimental to our health, but there is growing evidence that by ditching cigarettes and walking more we won’t just help ourselves, but our pets will gain from our new choices too. If you can identify with either habit, read on to find out how addressing these can benefit you and your furry companions.
Waving goodbye to cigarettes
It is hard to ignore the dangers of smoking, and while the link between tobacco use and lung cancer, respiratory illness and heart disease are widely appreciated, it is not so well known that smoking also contributes to a weakened immune system and the risk of developing osteoporosis, diabetes and dementia. Passive smoking is linked to a range of similar health problems and is especially hazardous to young children, but if you are a pet owner that smokes were you aware that your habit is putting your dog, cat or other small animal’s health at risk? Research has shown that dogs and cats living in households with smokers are twice as likely to develop a malignancy as pets living with non-smokers; nasal cancer is particularly a problem for dog breeds with a long snout, while short nosed breeds and cats are more susceptible to lung cancer – the latter are also more prone to feline lymphoma. Allergies to cigarette smoke, skin problems, chest infections and heart failure are also not uncommon amongst pets owned by smokers.
Ditching the cigarettes therefore won’t just protect your own health and that of your family, but your pets too. In one study almost 30% of pet owners who smoked said they would consider quitting for the sake of their animals, so it seems that knowing the dangers of smoking poses to our four-legged friends is added motivation to give cigarettes the push. If you are struggling to kick the habit, NHS smoking cessation services offer a range of options to aid your success in quitting for good.
Putting the miles in
The activity guidelines in the UK currently advise that we should aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week. Not only will this help to keep our weight in check, but reduces the risk of a number of common chronic diseases, which include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis; keeping active also has a positive impact on mental well-being. This exercise can take any form, and while it can be structured exercise such as participation in sport or going to the gym, walking is one of the best forms of activity that there is. As a free activity that can be done anywhere, walking is literally open to anyone who is able to mobilise. While motivation can still remain a barrier, dog owners really have no excuse; no matter what size or breed, health permitting dogs require at least one walk daily. Like us, dogs need regular exercise to maintain their physical and mental health.
With at least a third of the UK’s pets now overweight, upping your dog’s activity each day is one way to ensure that they don’t become another statistic. In doing so you will cut their risk of the same diseases that we are more prone to when carrying extra weight – notably heart disease and diabetes – and extend their lifespan so that you can enjoy more years together. Making a conscious effort to walk your dog more will also help to preserve the health of their heart, lungs and joints, helping to ward off problems which are detrimental to a pet’s quality of life. Well exercised dogs also tend to display better behaviour, as not only do they get the chance to let off steam but they receive mental stimulation, so will be more controlled around others and be less likely to be destructive at home. Besides all these benefits there is evidence that the more you exercise with your dog the stronger the relationship you will develop, increasing the bond between you. For you both to benefit, vary the exercise you give your dog. Walking them on the leash provides you with the opportunity to get those much needed steps, but also provide them with the chance to run free in appropriate areas, play fetch and search for hidden objects to challenge them physically and mentally; this way you will both stay healthy and happy.
With thanks from writer Jenny Hart