10 Ways to Exercise With Your Pet

The Pudgy Pet Problem

Dogs may be the best workout partners ever, but too many of them aren't getting enough exercise. Nor are cats. Experts estimate that nearly 35 percent of pets today are overweight, which increases their risk for many serious conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, breathing problems, and heart disease.

Blame the pudgy pet problem on too many treats and not enough leash time. "People are stressed and pulled in so many different directions — it's a lot easier to toss a treat to your pet than to lace up your sneakers and take him for a walk or get on the floor to play with him," says Gregory S. Hammer, DVM, past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. So we asked fitness pro and celebrity trainer Gunnar Peterson to share some of the moves he developed for petfit.com, a new initiative he started to help dogs and cats get more exercise and eat healthier.

Is Your Pet Too Fat?

To tell if your pet is overweight, follow this scoring system used by most vets: As your pet is standing, look down at him. You should see an indentation after his ribs — the waist. As you place your hands on his rib cage and apply gentle pressure, you should be able to feel his ribs. If you can pinch an inch, your pet is not fluffy. He is fat.

When a small- or medium-size animal gains even a little weight, it can have a significant impact on its health. When a 15-pound dog is 5 pounds overweight, that's the equivalent of you weighing 30% more than you should!

If Sparky is really out of shape, take him to the vet for a thorough exam before you start upping his exercise regimen, says Bernadine Cruz, DVM, chair of the AVMA's Council on Communications and a companion animal veterinarian in southern California. The vet can recommend the best types of exercise to get started.

Read on for 13 outdoor workouts you'll both want to do, plus safety tips from top veterinarians.

4 Key Safety Tips

  • Remember that pets can't sweat (they pant to cool down), so the best time to exercise outdoors is morning or evening, when it's not too hot.
  • Certain dogs will have an easier time exercising than others. Brachycephalic breeds — aka those with a pushed-in face, like pugs or Boston terriers — have a harder time breathing in general, and especially when exercising during hot, humid weather, says Cruz. Heat and humidity are also enemies of older dogs or those with respiratory issues.
  • Sounds obvious, but smaller or short-legged pets are probably not your best marathon training partners; they're not born to run long distances like Labs or retrievers. Instead, try shorter interval walks with sprints.
  • Watch for signs of exhaustion or overheating. Provide an ounce of water for every pound your pet weighs. If your pooch pants excessively or hyperventilates, his tongue and gums turn brick red, or he can't keep up and stands or lies listlessly, stop exercising and seek immediate veterinary care. These may be signs of a heat stroke, which is potentially fatal.

Now you know the basics, let's get started!
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