Women walking dogsThe holiday season is here and the New Year is just around the corner.  We are all familiar with the New Year’s resolution of exercising more and losing weight.  Losing weight is a challenge for both people and their pets.  With obesity levels at an all time high in North America, how can we reverse the trend and start shedding those pounds?  The good news is that working out with your pet has definite advantages!

 They might not understand the aerobics instructions and they can’t use free weights, but it’s possible that our pets may be just as valuable as expensive exercise machines in helping us humans lose weight. 

 A twelve month study recently completed has shown that exercising with your dog has several positive benefits for both owner and pets.  The People and Pets Exercising Together (PPET) study showed people who are trying to lose weight often need a positive support system of friends, co-workers and relatives.  Unfortunately, these same people can negatively affect an individual’s exercise plan by sabotage and even negative influences.  Exercising with your pet however, brings unique encouragement and fun not seen in other programs.

An owner who desires to lose weight can count on consistent prompting from their canine buddy to exercise.  The need for the dog to go outside is a positive influence, encouraging activity.  Most owners see their daily walks with the pet as enjoyable and less like exercise.  A separate Canadian study showed that dog owners actually averaged 300 minutes per week walking compared to 168 minutes for people without dogs.

Beyond the prompting to exercise, our pets also affect our desire to succeed because of parental pride.  Most pet owners consider their dogs and cats to be members of the family and when the pet loses weight as well, you can see the delight in the owner’s eyes.

But, before you rush out to buy a track suit for your four-legged buddy, there are a few considerations to make sure everyone stays healthy and safe.

First, just like you, your pet may not be ready for the Mini-Marathon.  Increase the amount of time spent walking gradually.  For some very obese dogs, you might begin with simply walking to the end of the block, then gradually working up to longer distances. 

It’s also important to realize that your pet will be very excited and not know to take it easy.  Every spring, veterinarians see dogs with ruptured cruciate ligaments, painful hips, and other injuries because of over-exertion.  Learn your pet’s limits and help him build strength and stamina.  Even if your pet is not overweight, strenuous exercise can debilitate any pet not used to the routine

Not all pets are equally suited to the same workout routine.  Although all dogs will benefit from daily walks, many breeds won’t make good running partners.  Be sure to tailor your exercise plan to your dog’s physical and athletic abilities.

Cats should not be left out of these activities either.  Spending 20-30 minutes doing play activities with your kitty can help her lose weight as well.  Cat experts recommend using laser pointers to increase activity or even wearing a long “tail” while you do your housework.  As you move through your home, the cat can actively “hunt” and pounce on the tail.  Other suggestions include allowing the cat to search/hunt for her food by placing multiple bowls around the house in high and low places.  Similarly, a Tricky Treat Ball can help by stimulating activity and reward your cat with her favorite treats. We have them available in our hospital.

Don’t forget the appropriate diet!  For overweight pets, a light diet or even a prescription reducing diet from your veterinarian might be appropriate.  But, if your canine athlete is already in peak condition, he may actually need a performance diet to help him meet his caloric needs as you increase his exercise regimen.

Be sure to get your pet a good physical exam before starting any weight loss or exercise program.  Your veterinarian can help you find the right rate of weight loss for your pet and will have additional ideas on exercise routines and proper diets.

Cultural changes have led to a significant increase in obesity among both humans and pets.  Although the study was small, the PPET study effectively showed that our pets can be supportive exercise partners.  This teamwork helped both pets and people lose weight and cemented yet another layer into the human-animal bond. 

To learn more about how obesity affects our pets, visit www.gardneranimalcarecenter.com.  You can also learn from licensed practicing veterinarians at www.PetDocsOnCall.com.