Athletes go to the gym all the time to stay fit and healthy. They run, lift weights, and stretch. Do animals do the same? Many animals must constantly be prepared for mating seasons and ready to run in case a predator spots them. Predators also need to be ready to attack their prey quickly and efficiently. So do animals have the mindset to physically prepare themselves for these situations or is it a natural, genetic trait?
Currently there is no evidence to support the theory that animals exercise with the goal to stay fit, however speaking with an animal behavior professor and a student who owns several athletic animals provided some insight on how and why animals may stay fit.
Sophomore biology major Hannah Hanford told me about the behavior of her animals. Hanford has owned several horses, cats, dogs and rats. She often sees her horses running and said, “It’s not necessarily that [the horses] have been cooped up and need to release energy because they can be out on the pasture for weeks at a time and I will catch them running laps.”
Hanford fox hunts as a hobby and mentioned how her horse Angel behaves differently during fox hunting season, “No matter when I ride her during fox season, she’s always agreeable with me … she’ll always do her work for me, but when it’s spring and summer time and fox hunting season is over and we’re no longer doing long distance runs, that’s when we start having problems and she doesn’t want to go.” Hanford has also observed her rats running on their wheels for long periods of time for no apparent reason.
Dr. Jonathan Micancin, a biology professor who teaches the Animal Behavior course (BI204) said, “There is an idea that animals have a certain amount of drive energy, in other words their neurophysiology is such that they are supposed to spend a certain amount of time or a certain amount of calories per day engaged in a certain activity like running.” He discussed how once an animal has met those needs over a period of time, the animal has exhausted its drive energy.
Micancin used dogs as an example. He stated “They have certain amounts of drive energy for chasing and for wrestling… it helps to explain why some dogs are destructive.” He explained that an animal’s brain has an internal clock that essentially tells them how much time to spend on certain activities. Micancin said, “You will find mice running on a wheel and horses running in circles because they’ve evolved to do that and it’s expressed in this trait [drive energy].”
Animals do exercise. They walk, run and do their version of a work out. The big difference between us and animals is the reason why. An athlete may want to be more healthy and prepared for their games, but animals have a drive energy that insists that they burn energy throughout a period of time. In a way, nature has done the work for them; preparing them for everything they need to be fit enough to do.