How (and why) to get in shape with your dog this year.

Did you make a New Year’s resolution to get in shape? If so – and if you’ve got a dog at home – you’re in luck. Getting in shape along with your dog is not only a good idea for both of you, but it’s easier and more fun to do together.

Why should I get in shape with my dog?

Dogs needs to exercise and be a healthy weight just like humans do. Excessive weight in both dogs and humans can cause joint damage, heart disease, respiratory problems, diabetes, skin problems and reduced life expectancy. Additionally, dogs, like humans, should avoid indulgences like eating too many fatty foods. In dogs, too much fat in a diet can lead to pancreatitis. (Humans can get pancreatitis from another kind of indulgence: drinking too much alcohol.)

Regular exercise and a healthy diet can help keep muscles strong, metabolisms healthy and weight under control. Thus, both you and your dog have lots to gain by losing weight and increasing your exercise in 2019.

Diets that Work for Dogs

There are thousands of recommended diets for humans, so we won’t try to review them all here. But we suspect that if you follow the same recommendations we have for dogs, you’ll be on the right track. To help your dog maintain a healthy weight:

  • Feed your dog only healthy, nutritious food, and the right amount of it. There are a lot of brands on the market, and varying recommendations about serving sizes, so talk with our vets about the best choice for your dog.
  • Do not leave food out all day for dogs to graze on. They should eat within 10-15 minutes, and then you should remove the bowl.
  • If you have more than one dog at home, separate them at meal time so a dominate dog does not eat the other’s food. This applies to cat food too – keep it out-of-reach of dogs.
  • Avoid giving excessive treats. A few healthy treats for training purposes is fine, but consider reducing the amount of food you serve at mealtimes if you are giving more treats during the day.
  • Do not give human food to dogs. Unless you’re making your own dog food out of dog-safe, dog-healthy ingredients, avoid the temptation to feed table scraps to your dogs.

How to Exercise with your Dog

Regular exercise is both a fun and important aspect of your dog’s health. Better yet, the two of you can exercise together to help you both stay healthy. Plus, you have a furry friend to keep you accountable to your goals and plans.

Here are some ways you can both get your exercise and enjoy the time spent together:

  • Hit the trails. Spartanburg is full of wonderful walking and hiking trails for dogs – whether you prefer paved city trials (check out The Hub City Connector for info on how to link all of the city’s trails, including the Mary Black Foundation Rail Trail) or rugged nature trails (such as The Cottonwood Trail). Remember, if your dog is severely overweight, has arthritis, or is elderly, take care as you start walking (see our tips for hiking with senior dogs for some advice).
  • Play fetch. When you go on a long walk, take along a ball. If your dog is safe off-leash (and you’re away from crowds), toss the ball as you walk. This will encourage your dog to run and play, and it will also keep you moving, throwing – and likely smiling too.
  • Go for a swim. When the weather warms up, swimming is a great way for you and your dog to exercise. It’s gentle on joints, uses lots of muscle groups, and is a lot of fun. If your dog is not a natural swimmer, consider getting a life jacket to keep him safe while you’re swimming in one of the Upstate’s many scenic lakes. (Greenville’s new Pet Paradise even offers a swimming pool for dogs).
  • Don’t rely on the fenced yard or quick break. Maybe your house has a fenced in yard, or maybe your dog never strays far from home – either way, you may have settled into a routine of just opening the door for your dog to go to the bathroom. Consider breaking this habit, and take the dog on a walk instead. If you have to walk every time your dogs have to use the restroom, you’ll both end up moving a lot more (and meeting more of your neighbors!).
  • Combine consistency and surprises. The best way to set up an exercise routine is to make it a habit. Make time to walk with your dog every morning, or every evening after work – or whatever schedule works for you. This kind of routine will switch from being difficult to being a pattern – which is the best way to keep you both moving. But to avoid boredom, add in some surprises – take a hike on the weekend, drive to a lake for a picnic and swim, try out Frisbee at a nearby dog park. Whatever sounds fun, be sure to mix it in occasionally.

Whatever your goals, the most important thing is to just get started. Don’t wait another day to take a long walk, eat good food, and enjoy the company of your dog. You’ll both have healthier – and happier – years ahead because of it. Got questions about exercise, food or dog health? Kick off the new year with a vet visit to discuss all your concerns.

Posted in Prevention Health

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