Exercising Safely With Your Pet

May 9, 2012 | By Amy Lieberman | Category: Care & Safety | 1 comment
Tags: behavior & training, health & wellness, care & safety, lifestyle & trends

Keep your pet healthy and happy during warm weather activity.

As the warm spring months set in, and get ready to give way to the hotter summer season, pet owners are likely trying to take advantage of the nice weather and get outside more with their dogs -- and perhaps, even cats or rabbits.

Exercise is healthy for pets and their owners alike, but overdoing it in hotter temperatures can come with some risks that pet owners should be aware of, says Ernie Ward, DVM, founder of Association for Pet Obesity Prevention and author of the book "Chow Hounds."

"Certainly as temperatures get north of 80 degrees we want to be sure we are being careful with both our own health and that of our pets," Ward explained. "Dogs don't exchange heat in the same way that we humans do and aren't as efficient at cooling off their bodies."

Unlike humans, dogs don't have the ability to sweat, and mostly cool themselves off through a few cells in their paw pads and by panting. Panting is normal, necessary behavior, but excessive panting is not. It's important to observe dogs who have been exercising in hot temperatures carefully to try and gauge the difference between panting and excessive panting, says Ward, who acknowledges that the difference can often be tricky to define.

"You want to pay attention to labored or difficulty breathing," he said. "What you often hear is this loud, noisy breathing pattern, and that is a sign to slow down."

"Also, if you are out running or walking with your dog and it stops, or all of a sudden you realize that you are dragging the leash, it might be a good time to head home. A good rule is to have water breaks every 15 to 20 minutes in hot weather. But one of the things I tell my clients is that you know your pets best. If you are suspicious, slow down."

Wetting a dog's scruff of the neck and the paws, in particular -- or wetting a dog down over all of his or her body -- can also be an effective cool-down technique.

Dogs who spent a lot of the cold months of the winter lounging around inside might also not be accustomed to exercising much, at all, or exercising as much as they might on long spring or summer hikes. Exposing a dog to intense exercise without having it conditioned to this type of activity can result in physical injuries, like the minor sprains and strains Ward says he sometimes sees in canine patients, but also more serious conditions like a ligament tear.

"People shouldn't be exceeding their pet's limitations," he cautions. "It's just a matter of common sense and building up your and your pet's stamina."

When it comes to food, more active spring and summertime months might result in a hungrier dog. Adjusting your dog's food intake during these warmer months, with the justification that he or she is now receiving more exercise and has an increased appetite, could be reasonable -- to a certain extent.

"If you go out and say, 'Gosh, we worked really hard today, my dog was really panting hard,' the reality is that you didn't burn nearly as many calories as you think you burned," Ward told Zootoo.

For example, a 20-pound dog who walks briskly, keeping a 15 to 16 minutes-per-mile pace, will only burn about 16 calories in one mile, he said. A 60-pound dog walking at about that same pace will only burn about 144 calories after walking three miles.

"Taking a three-mile jog every morning with your dog is good exercise, but won't necessarily burn as many calories as people think," he said.

Cats don't have to be excluded from the exercise regimen, either. Ward recommends food puzzles -- more often used for dogs -- to provide cats with some exercise, and says that when the weather is nice, he likes to take advantage of the sunshine and bring his cat outside for short walks on a leash.

How do you exercise with your pets in warmer weather? Tell us below!

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3 years ago

Well when Skitters was around I would take her for long walks and play soccer with her in the backyard and play chase. Her favorite though was always chase, as for Shorty I have not yet harrness trained him so he plays fetch and will run back and fourth wildly through the house on his own.

Good Point | Reply ›

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