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Ask the Vet: Agility Training

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QVetMy husband and I enrolled our Lab mix, Lennon, in agility courses when he was a puppy. He fell in love, and four years later, still goes to class once a week. Lennon is only five years old but we’ve noticed he is a bit lethargic the day after class. He still has enough energy for our daily walks and has a healthy appetite. Is this normal? Is it his age? Is there anything we can do to help him recover faster?

One of the best ways to enhance your dog’s well-being is through exercise––it has a positive influence on his psychological state, metabolism, and musculoskeletal structure. However, sometimes changes in performance can expose subclinical problems that would be missed in non-active dogs. It’s good to catch this. It could lead to early diagnosis, treatment, and resolution of any issues, leading to less stress for Lennon.

It may be that your dog is somewhat out of shape in relation to the level of activities that occur in the class. The sprinting, jumping, and performance actions associated with agility are much greater than most daily activity and walks. If he is in good health and his nutrition is appropriate and you want to continue his agility activities, it would be good to increase the number of times he participates a week. This would better prepare his body for the activities and improve his recovery.

As for his current state, a guideline to use in athletic dogs is if the performance is off once, it most likely is nothing to worry about. If it occurs two or more times, it is something to start monitoring. If you notice it three times or more, it is most likely significant and needs to be evaluated. A thorough musculoskeletal examination and a health check-up should include a complete blood count (CBC), blood chemistries, and a urinalysis, which provides basic information on the metabolic status of the dog. If basic evaluation is normal, it may be followed by a performance blood work-up.

This additional information is needed to assess the body’s metabolic status related to activity. For the performance test, the dog is evaluated prior to activity, soon after activity, and post-recovery. The dog’s pre-activity values are compared to the base line data to assess the effects of activity excitement. The post-work and recovery values are then compared to the other values to assess the effects of activity on the dog. Once the metabolic variances are identified, you and your vet can work together to develop a plan to keep Lennon as happy and healthy as he can be. Keeping him active is one of the most important things you can do.

drgilletteABOUT the Vet: Dr. Robert Gillette, DVM, MSE, DACVSMR, provides sports medicine care and rehabilitative services for companion animals and is one of the pioneers in the field of veterinary sports medicine and rehabilitation—with over 25 years of practice experience and 20 years experience with athletic and working dogs. Dr. Gillette also provides consultation services for individuals, handlers groups, businesses, government agencies, law enforcement and military operations that use or work with working and athletic dogs.

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