Plan to kick off the New Year with a new fitness goal? Let your pet help keep you motivated.

By Dr. Katy

@drkatynelson Dr. Katy Nelson is a veterinarian, Mommy, host of The Pet Show with Dr. Katy on Washington DC's NewsChannel 8, ABC 7's Animal Health Reporter, and WTOP Radio's Dr. Pawz. The 2014 recipient of the Washington Humane Society's "Humane Hero Award," Dr. Katy works tirelessly for many animal-related charities in the DC area and beyond.  Dr. Katy is also the Co-Executive Producer on "Tell Them I Am Kind," a documentary following one Newtown, CT Family's journey to healing through animals, due to air on PBS in 2015. 

 

Working out with a buddy is always easier, so if your plan this year is to shape up and slim down, consider bringing your four-legged friend along. Walks, hikes, and runs with your dog are great ways to incorporate cardiovascular exercise, behavior training, and bonding time. Here are five steps to get started.Before starting a new exercise routine, consult with your veterinarian (and your own doctor) to make sure you and your pet are healthy. Bonus: You’ll get a benchmark on which to base your progress. Make sure your pet is up-to-date on all vaccinations and heartworm/flea/tick medications to keep him safe in the great outdoors, especially if you plan to hike.

Running shoes? Check. Comfortable workout clothes? Check. Heart-rate monitor? Check. Now that you’re prepared, make sure you have the right equipment for your canine companion. Purchase a standard harness and a four- to six-foot reflective leash for walks and hikes. The harness is preferable to collars because the latter can restrict oxygen intake and even lead to tracheal collapse. I also don’t recommend extender leashes because they make it harder to control your dog in an urgent situation. Also, Gentle Leader collars are not ideal for running because they decrease your dog’s ability to pant. Plan your route ahead of time, too, starting with shorter distances, and if possible, choose a trail that has grass or dirt, which is better for your pet’s joints than cement or blacktop. But if your dog has thin footpads, one of these products can help protect his paws:

  • Muttluks Paw Protector balm
  • Dr. Scholl’s Moleskin
  • Musher’s Secret
  • EPIKS Revolutionary Dog Shoes-Patented Sole and Angle

Before a run, make sure your pup eats a small amount of food with a little brown rice added. You should offer just enough to give him energy but not so much as to cause GI upset or vomiting (think about what you eat before a trip to the gym and calculate the doggie equivalent). Bring low-calorie treats (pieces of baby carrot, for example) along to offer as rewards during the workout. Allow time for frequent short water breaks so that your running buddy stays hydrated, especially in warmer weather. Portable, collapsible dog bowls or squirt bottles are a good investment for this purpose. Remember not to give your dog too much—all that swishing in the belly can cause nausea.Make sure to “check in” with your dog during the workout. Panting is normal but your dog shouldn’t be out of breath or have difficulty breathing. Also, if your dog’s tongue is hanging out while panting, make sure it’s a healthy pink color and not red, purple, or blue. Be prepared for an emergency, like the following:Overheating: If your pet overheats, do not use ice water to cool him down. Instead, cover him with ambient temperature water or wet towels to initiate a slow, steady cooling process and get to a veterinarian immediately.

Collapse: This could be caused by a cardiac problem, a stroke, or a seizure, all of which require emergency veterinary attention.

Respiratory distress: Stop what you’re doing, allow your pet a moment to calm down, and if he’s still in distress, get to your car, turn on the air conditioning, and get to the veterinarian.

With this advice, and a healthy dose of commitment, you and your pup can achieve your goals this year!