Let’s talk about “FIT, NOT FAT”
In any successful weight-loss program, exercise is crucial because it’s the only practical way to make sure you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming. Physical activity is just as beneficial for pets as it is for people. For some dogs, their only exercise is a brief walk or two each day, largely to relieve themselves, not solely to encourage exercise. Most indoor cats have no reason to hunt for prey, defend their territory, or do little more than walk to their dish for a meal. Unless encouraged by their owners to exercise, most cats and dogs spend their day napping. The more weight there is to carry around, the more inactive your cat or dog becomes and the harder it gets to exercise and reduce weight. It’s a vicious cycle.
You are the key to a successful fitness program for your cat or dog. You set the routine, find the motivation, use your creativity, and are responsible for getting your pet out there exercising. Try to create a routine and stick to it. Most pets won’t exercise by themselves. Dogs and cats may play with one another or entertain themselves briefly with toys, but as the pet parent, it’s your job to direct exercise play and keep your pets active. If you want to try something new, doggie yoga, pet treadmills, and personal pet trainers are readily available.
All exercise plans should start off slowly, initially exercising a pet only as much as they can comfortably perform—especially if your pet is fat and out of shape—working up to 30 minutes twice a day for dogs and 15 minutes once or twice a day for cats. Once weight loss occurs, your pet should be able to exercise longer and the amount and intensity of exercise can be gradually increased. As they lose weight, most pets will experience an increase in mobility and energy level and will look and feel better.
Unless your dog is already used to walking, you should begin with short walks and gradually progress to 30-minute walks twice a day. Overexercising an obese animal can cause more harm than good. Always monitor your pet closely for signs of fatigue and stop the exercise if this occurs. Start with two easy, short walks per day—five to 15 minutes each walk may be plenty for an obese dog—and gradually increase the intensity (if appropriate) and duration.
Swimming is a great exercise for dogs. Swimming for just five minutes is equivalent to twenty minutes of walking. While all dogs benefit from the cardiovascular exercise of swimming, older dog especially with arthritis may benefit the most. The buoyancy of water provides a non-stress bearing environment in which the dog can work his muscles. Swimming is also a great therapy treatment. In conjunction with massage therapy, it is often used to treat dogs after surgeries or injuries.
- Start slowly and never leave your pet unattended in the water.
- If your pet is old or overweight, it’s a good idea to use a life jacket for dogs. It eases the amount of work and lets them swim longer.
- Introduce puppies to water by bringing along an older water-loving dog as a role model. Puppies will generally follow the lead of elders.
- Use your own judgment whether the water is too cold or not. Certain breeds can handle very cold water but some dogs love swimming so much that they are willing to jump in regardless of the temperature and exercising cold muscles is never good.
- Always rinse off your dog after swimming as the chlorine or salt water can dry the coat and cause skin irritation.
- Dogs with floppy ears that are prone to ear infections should have their ears cleaned out after swimming to prevent an infection. Use an ear cleansing solution made for dogs.
- Your dog should not swim for at least two hours after eating.
Dogs make great running companions, and it’s a good way to keep them slim and happy. Running is also good for their overall health, including their mental health. If you keep them active, they’re less likely to be hyperactive and destructive at home.
- Make sure you clear it with your vet before you start running with your dog.
- Run a short distance when you first begin, and start slowly. Try one mile to start, and see how your dog is doing the next morning. If your dog is sore or tired, you know you’ve gone too far, so cut the distance down.
- Always check the pads of your dog’s feet. Dogs don’t have running shoes, so they will need some time to harden up their pads. If possible, run on dirt paths or grass and be careful of burning your dog’s feet on hot pavement.
- Try to exercise during the cooler parts of the day, like early morning or late afternoon.
- Know the signs of overheating. If your dog starts to lag behind or pant excessively, or their tongue starts hanging out, it’s a warning sign that they may be overdoing it.
- Always keep your dog on a leash to prevent it from being hit by a car.
- Don’t run with a dog that’s too young. It’s best to wait until it’s at least 8 months old.
- Older dogs might be better with walking instead of running.
- Use common sense. A short-legged dachshund isn’t going to run as far or as fast as a greyhound or golden retriever. A Jack Russell will need much more exercise than a Shih Tzu.
- Never exercise a dog right after a big meal as this can lead to life-threatening problems such as bloat.
- Make sure your dog has current ID tags as well as current vaccinations.
- Make sure your dog is in shape, meaning free from the hip, back, and joint problems. If you’re not sure, take your pet for a checkup from the vet first.
- Make sure you have a sturdy leash and collar.
- Always carry plenty of water. I recommend carrying eight ounces of water for every hour of hiking, and a portable water dish.
- Consider buying a backpack for your dog. Even a medium-size dog can carry a bowl and a first-aid kit in its pack. A healthy, well-conditioned dog can easily carry 25% to 33% of its body weight in a pack. Of course, you should start out slowly and acclimate your pet to the pack prior to the hike day.
- Always stay on the trails and only hike where dogs are allowed.
- Carry a first-aid kit that contains the basics, like bandage material, wound disinfectant, tweezers, and your vet’s number.
- Try to discourage your pet from drinking pond or river water. It could have giardia in it, which causes diarrhea in animals (including humans).
- Always pick up after your pet.
- Don’t allow your dog to chase wildlife.
- If you plan on going for a long hike, you might consider buying some booties to protect your dog’s pads.
- Avoid walking your dog on asphalt and other hot surfaces as their pads can burn easily.
- Be on the lookout for snakes. Snakebites are medical emergencies. If your pet gets bitten, you must take it to the vet as soon as possible. It can make the difference between life and death.
- Watch for signs of heat stroke. Dogs lack sweat glands and can only pant to disperse heat. This makes them susceptible to heat stroke, which they can die from. Rapid panting, a bright red tongue, and/or lagging behind are all signs of heat exhaustion.
- Put a bandana in water and tie it around your dog’s neck to help keep it cool during the hike.
- Make sure your dog has some protection against fleas and ticks.
- After the hike, remember to check your dog’s coat for ticks, burrs, and foxtails. It’s also a good idea to look between the toes and check the pads for cuts and abrasions.
- Enjoy the scenery and have as much fun on the hike as your dog does!
Alternative means of exercise include agility training, doggy playgroups, obedience classes, and, of course, playing fetch!
Cats engage in two types of play. The first is social play, where they romp, wrestle, and chase one another, and the second is object play, where they stalk, pounce, chase, and play with an object. These are the most effective ways that you can get your cat up and moving. Be creative and try to think like a cat when creating toys for them. Keep in mind that boredom is the culprit. Instead of giving in to your frustrated feline who toe bites or vocally complains, try giving your cat attention, doing obedience work, teaching it a trick, chasing it around the house, playing with a feathered toy, or doing some other form of exercise to divert its attention from food and burn extra calories. With a little creativity, commitment, and determination, you can achieve a daily or twice-daily 15-minute flurry of activity for your cat.
- Get a kitten or a second cat that it can chase around.
- Buy interactive toys such as mechanical mice or moving toys.
- Purchase a cat video.
- Use a laser pointer.
- Bring home new toys that your cat can chase.
- Buy catnip or catnip toys.
- Play chase up and down the stairs or around the house.
- Wad up paper or foil to use as a ball.
- Buy rubber or ping-pong balls for your cat to chase.
- Use remote-controlled toys.
- Use a feather on a wand to entice play.
- Make a maze out of boxes.
- Train your cat for agility (see www.catagility.com).
- Place large containers or paper bags for cats to climb into.
- Purchase a large cat tree with several levels.
- Make an outdoor enclosure for your cat to play in.
- Increase your household activities to entice your pets to join in.
- Engage your cat in some form of exercise every day.
Cats are unique in that their nails are sharper and more curved than any other mammal. They’re also carnivores, so in the wild their nails help them grip their prey. Now that your cat is domesticated, that prey sometimes becomes your furniture. Cats scratch for a variety of reasons. This includes marking their territory (both visually and with scent glands in their pads), stretching and strengthening their muscles, and sharpening their nails. But not to worry: With patience and training, cats can coexist very nicely with a pricey couch. Here’s how to train your cat to use a scratching post.
- Try different scratching posts to see which surfaces your cat likes.
- Make sure the post has a wide base and is stable enough for the cat to stand up and pull down on the post.
- Spray the post with catnip if your cat likes this smell.
- Attach dangling toys around the post to entice the cat.
- Play with your cat around the post.
- Praise your cat after it uses the post.
- Put scratching posts in locations where your cat likes to scratch. Many cats like to scratch when they first wake up, so if they sleep with you, put a post by your bed.
- Train your cat to stay away from your furniture by putting double-sided tape or aluminum foil on the furniture where they scratch.
- Spray your furniture with lemon cleaner. Cats usually dislike the smell of citrus.
- Kittens tend to use their nails more than adult cats, so start working with your kittens as soon as possible.
- Use loud noises or a squirt bottle with water to discourage your cat from scratching the furniture. Repetition is important.
- Trim your cat’s nails on a regular basis. Your vet can show you how.
- Try Soft Paws. These are plastic coverings for your cat’s nails that you can buy from your vet.
Most cats can be trained to use a scratching post instead of your furniture, so don’t give up! Remember, cats have a natural instinct to scratch. This is very normal behavior, and with a little bit of guidance, you can teach your cat to scratch their posts instead of your furniture.