You come home from a long day at work, ready to put your feet up and relax for a while. When you open the door to find your furry friend waiting, hoping that it’s time for a walk or a game of fetch, what do you do? Do you ignore the wagging tail, those big eyes, and that look of excitement? Of course not! You decide that relaxing can wait, and you head out with Fido for a little activity.
You know that exercise is good for you. It helps you maintain a healthy weight, manage stress, sleep better, and increase your energy level. The great thing is that activity does the same for your pets! Not only will exercise help them live longer, but an exercising animal is also more alert and more content. Some people believe that their pets misbehave to get even for being left alone; but in reality, the cause is usually boredom from lack of exercise. Many other behavior problems like chewing, digging, and barking go away once the animal starts getting regular activity.
Some recent studies have shown a link between pet ownership and better health. A dog, for example, becomes a stimulus for exercise. Therefore, pet owners tend to have better cardiovascular fitness levels than people without pets. One study, for example, showed that dog owners walk an average of 300 minutes per week--that's nearly double the 168 minutes of walking that people without dogs usually do. In addition, pets have been shown to reduce anxiety, be a source of physical contact and comfort, and decrease feelings of loneliness and depression.
Exercising with your dog is a great time saver! Whether you like to run, walk, or play in the backyard with your pet, you can get your own workout at the same time. Although walking is probably the most common activity, there are other opportunities for exercise that you may not have thought of—hiking, backpacking, jogging, swimming, and rollerblading (be careful!) can all be done with pets in tow. Many sporting goods stores now carry items such as canine backpacks, hands-free leashes (to make jogging easier), and life vests to protect pets in the water.
Just as it would be hard for you to go out and jog for 45 minutes if you haven’t worked out in 6 months, it’s also hard for your pet. Be sure to get your veterinarian’s okay before beginning your pet’s exercise routine. After you get the go-ahead, here are some tips to help you get started:
- Start slowly, gradually increasing the time and intensity of the activity. This will safely strengthen your pet’s muscles, aerobic capacity, and footpads.
- Pay attention to how your pet is feeling. Signs that your pet needs to slow down or stop include drooling, stumbling, trouble breathing, and a long, droopy tongue. Take a break and consider making tomorrow's workout shorter. Also remember that in hot weather your pet can't sweat like you do to keep cool.
- Concrete and asphalt are tough on your friends’ paws—especially on hot days. Try to walk or run on dirt paths (or grass) as much as possible.
- The longer you work out, the more water Fido needs. Bring along a collapsible water dish to help your pet stay hydrated.
- Be realistic about your pet’s limitations. Many smaller breeds love going for a brisk walk, but you’ll probably have to carry them on a strenuous hike. Animals with a thin coat will not tolerate cold weather very well, whereas dogs with thick coats don’t do well in the summer heat.
- You should avoid strenuous exercise with your pet until they are finished growing (after 9-12 months for most dogs).
Working out with a buddy can be motivating and make exercise more enjoyable. So think about making a buddy out of your four-legged friend!