Embarking upon an exercise program with your pet can - and should - be a fun and rewarding experience for both of you. Pets are wonderful in that regard because they are so darn enthusiastic - “WALK? Did someone say WAAAAAALK?” which is quite honestly not always the response I myself feel at 7 in the morning.
On the other hand, in our enthusiasm at the start of a new adventure, we sometimes succumb to the Weekend Warrior syndrome - going from 0 to 60 in the course of a week, trotting out on a 5 mile jog when we haven’t walked further than the mailbox in a month and a half. We know when we’ve overdone it, but our pets aren’t always as forward in communicating what an appropriate activity level is for them. For that reason, I always tell people that the first stop on your new regimen should be the veterinary office.
In general, most veterinarians recommend twice yearly visits for a basic wellness check. Because pets age at an accelerated rate compared to humans, a lot can change in six months, and it’s a good opportunity to get an early handle on conditions that just may be starting to develop. If your pet is due for a visit, this is a good time to get guidance on a few key issues:
Is my pet at an ideal weight? If not, where do we need to be? Knowing “Fido could stand to lose 5 pounds, and we should do this over a 2 month period” is a more concrete goal than just knowing he’s a little flabby.
Is my choice of exercise an appropriate one? If you have a two year old Golden, chances are he will probably be a good running partner. On the other hand, if you have a 10 year old bulldog, he may have anatomic issues that predispose him to heat stroke. Maybe short walks are where he needs to be right now. Or perhaps your pet has a slight limp you weren’t even aware of, and swimming may be a better way to ease in to exercise.
Is my training plan a good one? Many veterinarians recommend taking it easy on high impact exercise such as running if you have a large breed dog under the age of two; it takes that long for their skeleton to fully mature and the stress of long runs can have some impact on their development. Your dog may be just fine; this is why the vet’s input can be invaluable.
Am I giving the proper nutrition? Optimum health relies on multiple factors, and one of them is food. The number of choices out there can be dizzying- do you want a senior diet with added joint support? A high protein diet meant for performance? Choosing the right food is as critical a part of a health program as anything, and vets are a great source of information tailored to your pet’s individual needs.
Having your goal on your pet’s record is a great opportunity for positive reinforcement for the both of you. I wish I could record the happiness on a client’s face when they bring a pet in for a weight check and see the numbers on the scale going down. It feels just as good as an owner as it does when you are losing a few yourself. Happy health to you!