How to Keep Your Pet Healthy All Year Round
Here’s a guide for any breed, in any type of weather.
When you’re thinking about outdoor exercise, you probably—like Goldilocks—want a day that's not too hot, not too cold, but just right! And your pet likely agrees.
On those beautiful days, it’s easy for the two of you to get out the door for a run, a soccer match, some yoga, or whatever else gets your fitness juices going. But what about when the snow is falling or when you need gloves and a scarf just to venture outside? What about those days when you can scarcely open the front door without being drenched by sweat or burned by the sun?
If it’s hard for you, imagine what the weather changes do to your pets! The winter seasons tend to pack pounds not just on humans but also on our four-legged friends, so it’s critical to stay as active as possible. Pet obesity is on the rise, and a recent study indicated that overweight pets may live shorter lives. Even a few extra pounds can increase your pet’s likelihood of developing osteoarthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or kidney disease.
Besides cutting into our exercise time, cold weather sometimes also tempts us into overfeeding our pets. While you comfort yourself with a hot chocolate and biscotti, it's easy to toss Spot an extra treat, too. Those extra calories add up quickly for a pet whose total calorie needs might be only 200–300 (see chart).
Staying Motivated and Safe
So when you're committed to keeping your and your dog's seasonal fitness routine on track, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Think Small and Short
Long runs are great, but even dogs with great endurance can’t make it more than a few miles. Plus, the more you’re outside, the more items you’ll need to bring: water bottles and bowls, plastic trash bags for pit stops, and so on. As such, when it comes to taking (wo)man’s best friend on your workout, keep it small and short. Sprints down the block, interval exercises that pack a punch—those are better than tackling anything that may keep you out for an hour or longer, which is especially important in extremely cold or extremely warm temperatures.
Keep Breeds in Mind
Greyhound or teacup Chihuahua? Boxer or dachshund? It’s more than just size—some dog breeds are built for certain activities over others. (See the chart below.) If your dog has a smushed nose or short legs, he or she might have trouble breathing if the workout is intense. If your dog is a runner or shepherd by nature, you might need to give him or her the opportunity to release some pent-up energy before doing anything else.
Then there’s your fitness personality: Do you like running or circuits? Would you rather do short bursts of intense activity or kick a soccer ball around? Make sure that you factor both of your needs into your workout plans.
When you’re ready to exercise with your four-legged workout partner, make sure that both of you are safe. Wear supportive shoes and weather-appropriate gear, especially if you’ll be chasing after a pet. And for your doggie, reflective vests and even little booties may keep him or her safe and protected!
I know, I know. Those boots can look a little ridiculous (and with my dogs, it’s always taken a few adventures out to have them stop marching instead of walking!). But they really do a great job of protecting your pet from ice shards and from the road salt that can get between paws and toenails, and they help keep your dog’s temperature regulated.
Obviously pups can’t tell you when they’re hot or cold, and the first sign that they’re in trouble could be too late. This chart can help you gauge how long your dog can likely be outdoors, based on his size and different temperature ranges.
Most people think that when it’s cold, they need to be less careful about staying hydrated, but it’s just not true. For both you and Skippy, make sure that you’re taking water breaks. You sweat even when it’s snowing out, especially when you incorporate cardio into your workout. Don’t wait to be thirsty to drink up. And it goes without saying that in extremely warm conditions, plenty of water is an absolute must for any sort of physical activity.
Don’t Forget to Have Fun
Can you get a great workout while playing around? You bet! And if you put too much pressure on yourself and your pet, the workout can get really frustrating. Be sure to use this opportunity to bond over an activity and think about it as an opportunity to enjoy the seasons together.
What Activities Can You Try?
Send Fido running after a ball, a small toy, or a Frisbee. And while waiting for him to return, see how many reps you can do of your favorite bodyweight exercises. Each time you throw, pick a new activity; squats, lunges, burpees, and jumping jacks will use all your big muscles (and they have the added benefit of keeping you nice and warm as well).
Indoors or out, you can have fun with an obstacle course that incorporates a number of small movements. Your dog will have a blast chasing you around, and you can still focus on your fitness.
Take a Bike Ride
You have to have the right breed and temperament for this (see above), but if you have a dog that you know can stay calm on the leash, why not jump on the bike? Keep Bruno by your side (not in front or behind the bike), and both of you will cover some good ground while getting your sweat on.
On your mark, get set … GO! Run as fast as you can down the sidewalk, or park and see whether your pup can keep up (spoiler alert: probably). But make it a challenge: Try zig-zagging, stopping and starting again, and having fun along the run. After a few minutes, you’ll both be out of breath and nice and warm!
You and your pets need to stay active and well, and if you let Mother Nature control your plans, that can be extremely difficult. So embrace the opportunities of the changing seasons rather than letting them serve as excuses. Get outside (or stay inside, but get creative!) and make sure that you and your buddy have long, happy, and healthy lives.
A version of this story originally appeared on FoodandWine.com.