Most of us are aware that exercise promotes good physical and mental health, especially since the global pandemic that forced us to re-evaluate our stress management strategies. These tenets also hold true for pets, who reap many benefits from regular activity. Exercise can reduce boredom and frustration and prevent behavior issues by expending excess energy, providing mental stimulation and social interaction, and keeping muscles and joints optimally functioning—and last but not least, an active pet helps in the fight against our rising pet obesity epidemic.
We understand that staying active year-round can be difficult in the Texas heat, so the Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team came up with a few ideas for indoor and outdoor activities that will keep you and your pet active, despite the season.
#1: Walk or hike with your pet
Walking at a brisk pace provides health benefits because of the low joint impact, and keeps pets engaged with new smells, sights, and sounds. Most pets are well-suited to walking or hiking, although some athletic types (e.g., retrievers or herding breeds) fare better with running. However, avoid running with short-legged or short-nosed (i.e., brachycephalic) breeds, or young puppies, as this can be too hard on their joints.
Walking and hiking are ideal during the cooler months, but can be safe in hot weather if you take these precautions:
- Take frequent breaks and always carry water and a collapsible bowl for your pet
- Exercise only during the coolest hours—usually early morning
- Avoid the midday sun and heat
- Be mindful of hot asphalt or sand that can burn your pet’s paws
- Keep trips short and stay close to home, so you can move inside as needed
#2: Cycle with your pet
If you have a highly active, trainable dog, cycling may be for you. You’ll need to take time to accustom your pet to the process, but you can use a special attachment that allows your pet to run safely alongside a bicycle. Avoid riding on streets or in areas frequented by pedestrians who could become entangled in your pet’s leash and cause an accident. Safety gear is paramount.
#3: Swim with your pet
Swimming is ideal year-round as the activity is self-cooling, and can be performed indoors or outdoors. Indoor facilities designed for dogs are great, especially for older pets who need a more controlled session. Pet owners can swim outdoors alongside their pets, but must have good off-leash voice control when swimming in a public body of water rather than a privately owned pool.
#4: Set up a pet scavenger hunt
This is a fun indoor activity if you don’t have time for a walk or the weather is less than ideal. For dogs, hide various treats, and for cats hide treats, puzzle toys, or catnip around the house that your pet can hunt and discover. Plus, while your pet searches for the goodies, you can get in a few ab reps or run up and down the stairs.
#5: Build an indoor pet obstacle course
This one is fun for dogs, but especially for cats. Create obstacles with stable boxes, milk crates, pillows, cushions, or anything else you can find around the house. Lure your pet through the course with treats or a wand toy, jumping over, crawling under, or going around the items. If your pet has trouble understanding what you want, use clicker training to shape behaviors and get the wheels turning in their head.
#6: Participate in a dog sport
Agility is a great indoor or outdoor sport for many athletic, high-energy dogs. Agility classes often take place indoors to reduce distraction, and are a great way to build a bond with your pet, use training to activate their brain, and for you both to stay active by repeatedly running obstacles. The option to compete offers more motivation and gets you involved in a new community. If agility isn’t your thing, a quick internet search will reveal many dog sports, and you will find something to suit your particular dog and your lifestyle.
Finding ways to stay active will keep you and your pet happy and healthy. Always check with your veterinarian prior to starting a new pet exercise routine, as growing young pets, brachycephalic pets, or older pets with medical conditions can be injured or overheat when they perform strenuous activity. Contact your nearest Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team to schedule a wellness visit and exercise consultation, or for additional pet activity suggestions.
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