Dogs may be the best workout partners ever, but too many of them aren't getting enough exercise. Nor are cats. It is estimated that nearly 50 percent of pets today are overweight, which increases their risks for many serious conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, breathing problems and heart disease.
People are stressed and pulled in so many different directions. So it's a lot easier to toss a treat to your pet than to lace up your sneakers and take him for a walk or get on the floor to play with him.
Read on for surprising workout moves you'll both want to do, plus safety tips.
Four key safety tips
- Remember that pets can't sweat — they pant to cool down — so the best time to exercise outdoors is morning or evening when it's not too hot.
- Certain dogs will have an easier time exercising than others. Brachycephalic breeds — those with pushed-in faces, like pugs or Boston terriers — have a harder time breathing in general.
- Sounds obvious, but smaller or short-legged pets are probably not your best marathon training partners; they're not born to run long distances, like labradors or retrievers. Instead, try shorter interval walks with sprints.
- Watch for signs of exhaustion or overheating. Provide an ounce of water for every pound your pet weighs. If your pooch pants excessively or hyperventilates, his tongue and gums turn brick red, or he can't keep up and stands or lies listlessly, stop exercising and seek immediate veterinary care.
Five activities to try with your pet
1. Interval walk: Think of this as a way for you both to get exercise as an essential part of your pet's good health. Multiple short walks a day may be best for very young, very old or physically challenged dogs. But for other pets, take longer strolls, at least 15 to 20 minutes, to increase your pet's heart rate.
2. Fetch tease for abs: Grab your pet's favorite fetch toy and get down on the floor in a sit-up position. Hold the toy as you do a sit-up, and pretend to toss it as you reach the top. Fido will chase after it, only to realize you still have his toy. Do another sit-up, and pretend to toss the toy again. Try to get in as many reps as you can until your dog stops chasing and playing along.
3. Dogstacle course: Place fitness gear throughout your backyard, as though you're creating an obstacle course. Think fitness step, bosu ball, jump rope, hula hoop, etc. Place your dog on a leash and briskly walk through the course together. At each station, stop and do a specific exercise, like modified push-ups on the step or balancing moves. If your pooch runs off, that's part of the fun — you'll both get a good sprint when you chase him to bring him back. Your dog will love the quality time with you and the fast-paced walking between your stations.
4. Dog stairs: Leash your pooch and pick a long staircase, either in your house or perhaps the bleachers at a nearby school. Go up and down the stairs with your pet by your side, and vary the way you step for a more challenging workout.
5. Cat "light" abs: This move tones your tummy and gets your cat up and at 'em. Do sit-ups with a mini flashlight in each hand. At the top position, tighten your ab muscles while waving the flashlight beams back and forth on the wall so your cat will chase them.
It really doesn't matter what activity you do with your pet, the goal, as they say, is to "just do it!"
Dr. Darren Woodson has practiced veterinary medicine in the Farmington area for 30 years. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.