Exercise is an essential part of your pet's everyday life. Whether your pet is a dog, a cat, a rabbit, a ferret or something else entirely, all pets need exercise to keep them active, to prevent boredom and to help prevent obesity.

Exercise tips

Let your pet warm up and increase exercise gradually as fitness improves.

Try exercising your pet with other pets (species dependent!).

Remember, exercise should be fun for both owners and pets.

Exercise is a great time for bonding with your pet.

If you can't exercise your dog, ask a family member or friend to help you.

Remember that each pet will have his/her limits. For example, don't expect old, arthritic dogs to do too much - elderly joints may be further damaged by too much exercise.

Exercise for your dog

Regular walks: your dog should be walked at least twice daily for a minimum of 20-30 minutes and many dogs will need more than this!

Resistance walks: it is good to exercise your dog on a variety of different surfaces - try sand, shallow water, snow or rough surfaces, such as a recently ploughed field.

Enhanced walks: provide your dog with natural obstacles - such as benches, trees and ditches - to jump over, crawl under or balance on.

Fetch: throw a ball or toy for your dog - it's fun for them and not too strenuous for you. Do not throw sticks for your dog as they can splinter and cause serious injuries.

Hide and seek: hide a toy and let your dog find it.

Jogging and cycling: take your dog with you while you run or cycle and you can both get fit!

Swimming and hydrotherapy: ideal for all dogs, especially those with arthritis or back problems. There are heated indoor pools available for dogs, usually with buoyancy aids available, if necessary.

Massage and stretching: this is useful as it warms up muscles and stimulates blood circulation in your dog.

Join a pet activity club

Obedience is an essential skill for all dogs and a pet activity club is a great place to start.

Agility skills develop as pet activity clubs test the animal's fitness and the owner's ability to direct the dog over and through various obstacles against the clock. Any dog can participate.

Flyball involves the dog jumping hurdles, pressing a pedal to release a tennis ball into the air, catching the ball and going back over the hurdles to hand it over to another team mate.

Heelwork to music is a new competition where the competitor designs a routine with their dog to suit a piece of music.

Field trials and gundog working tests resemble a day's shooting in the field. This type of activity would only be open to certain breeds.

Working trials are the civilian equivalent of police dog work. They are open to any breed but are very demanding and include: nosework (track and search); and agility and control sections. 

Showing is the formal "beauty contests" for purebred dogs. Ringcraft classes teach skills to help dogs in the show ring. Local shows may also have fun showing classes for non-pedigree dogs.

Exercise for your cat &

fun and games

Toys: use commercial or homemade cat toys to encourage active play.

"Catch the light": shine a white light torch on the walls and let your cat play (do not use a red light laser as it may damage your cat's eyes).

"Hunting": encourage your cat to hunt for his/her supper by placing his food in different locations in your home each day. Make him work harder by using obstacles or feeding from tall furniture or shelves.

Massage and stretching: warms up muscles and releases tension. Frequent grooming is also a good thing.

Walking and outdoor exercise

Walking on a harness will take some getting used to but may enable you to walk safely with your cat.

Enhanced walk: encourage jumping and active play - using natural toys in the garden, such as leafy twigs and piles of leaves.

Exercise for your rabbit or guinea pig

Encourage your rabbit or guinea pig to practise its natural behaviour. A section pipe placed in the hutch can act as a burrow while a box filled with shredded paper can encourage digging . Always include some root vegetables for your rabbit or guinea pig to nibble on as a treat.

A secure run is the best way of giving an outdoor rabbit exercise. It should have both a lid and, if on grass, something to stop a fox digging in or a rabbit digging out. Use weld mesh instead of chicken wire. Weld mesh is stronger as it is welded at each join rather than being twisted together. Never let your rabbit or guinea pig outside unsupervised - all too often, local cats or foxes are watching and will take advantage of an unsuspecting pet.

Many rabbits will also play with toys such as balls - especially if introduced at a young age.

Exercise for your ferret

Ferrets spend a great deal of time during the day sleeping, but when they are awake they are very active and play intensely. They are most active during dawn and dusk.

Ferrets need plenty of exercise outside of their hutch or cage (about two hours per day). Try taking your ferret for a walk with a ferret harness (this is better than a collar and lead, as harnesses are more comfortable and secure). Ferrets need exercise to control their weight and to maintain joint mobility and muscle tone, and also to prevent stress and boredom.

Ferret toys

A ferret toy should be entertaining for your pet, without being dangerous. A ferret will happily play with cardboard boxes, empty paper bags, old shoes or slippers, tennis and golf balls. Your ferret may also enjoy hammocks and tunnels. Cat and rabbit toys are also suitable stimulation and entertainment for your ferret. Avoid toys made of foam or with foam stuffing as the stuffing may cause a blockage in the ferret's digestive tract if eaten. Hard, durable toys are best. Also avoid toys that can break easily, and that have small bells or balls inside them as these toys can be broken and the inside parts swallowed.

Exercise for small rodents

Rats, hamsters, gerbils, mice, degus, chinchillas and other small furries also need exercise to prevent them from becoming bored. Always ensure that, if you are taking them outside of the cage to play, there is nowhere for them to get stuck or escape. The larger the cage the better for all these species. Rats enjoy hammocks and are generally keen to play. Wheels can be useful in some species but avoid those with open rungs as feet can get trapped, causing broken limbs.

Tunnels (toilet roll inners), burrowing material and things to climb on or under all add encouragement to play and explore. Change things in the cage to add variety. Regular dust baths are essential for chinchillas.