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% 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. Fitness pro and celebrity trainer Gunnar Peterson shares 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.
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!
“So many pet owners consider walking their pets a chore, like making the bed,” says Peterson. “Instead, think of it as a way for you both to get exercise, as an essential part of your pet’s good health.” A quick walk down the block to pee and back isn’t enough activity, he says. Multiple short walks a day may be best for very young, very old, or physically challenged dogs, says Cruz. But for other pets, take longer strolls that increase your pet’s heart rate (at least 15 to 20 minutes), which will boost his metabolism. One way to do this is to add intervals, suggests Peterson. Here’s how.
- 1 minute: walk
- 20 seconds: jog
- 1 minute: walk
- 20 seconds: shuffle sideways
- 1 minute: walk
- 20 seconds: run backward
Repeat 5 times and you’ll get in a decent 20-minute cardio workout. “Your dog will get excited because you’re always changing things up—just as fired up as he would be from a treat,” Peterson says.
2. Fetch tease for abs
Crunch and tone your tummy while your dog sprints to play fetch.
How to: Grab your pet’s favorite fetch toy and get down on the floor in sit-up position. Hold the toy as you do a sit-up, and pretend to toss it as you reach the top. Fido will chase after it, only to realize you still have his toy. Do another sit-up, and pretend to toss the toy again. Try to get in as many reps as you can until your dog stops chasing and playing along.
3. Squat tease
Firm your butt and thighs while your dog gets his jump on.
How to: Stand with legs shoulder-width apart. Squat and tap your dog with his favorite toy. As you rise, lift the toy above your head; your dog will jump up for it.
4. Dogstacle course
This is circuit training for you and your pet.
How to: Place fitness gear throughout your backyard, as though you’re creating an obstacle course (only do this in a fenced-in area). Think fitness step, bosu ball, jump rope, hula hoop, etc. Place your dog on a leash and briskly walk through the course together. At each station, stop and do a specific exercise, like modified push-ups on the step or balancing moves on the bosu ball. Some well-trained dogs may sit still while you work out, but if he doesn’t, no biggie. If your pooch runs off, that’s part of the fun—you’ll both get a good sprint when you chase him to bring him back. Your dog will love the quality time with you and the fast-paced walking between your stations.
5. Dog tag
Just like the game you played as a kid, this is good sprinting exercise for you and your pooch.
How to: You’re it: “Tag” your dog, then start running around your backyard and let him chase you. After a few minutes, you’ll both get your heart rates soaring.
6. Fetch races
Your dog won’t be the only one playing fetch in this game.
How to: Head to your backyard or a park and throw your pup’s favorite toy—only this time, race her to pick it up (a great way to get your blood pumping). Then wrestle the toy from her grasp, toss, and race her for it again.
7. Dog stairs
Climbing steps together will sculpt your legs and help your pup burn off his breakfast.
How to: Leash your pooch and pick a long staircase, either in your house, or perhaps the bleachers at a nearby school. Go up and down the stairs with your pet by your side, and vary the way you step for a more challenging workout: Take steps two at a time, widen your stance so you step up in a “V,” run up the steps sideways, and more.
8. Cat “light” abs
We didn’t forget about your kitty—she needs to stay active too. “Getting a feline to frolic can be hard work,” says Cruz. “As cats leave their mischievous kitten stage of life, learning what makes your cat frisky can take some trial and error.” This move tones your tummy and gets your cat up and at ’em.
How to: Do sit-ups with a mini flashlight in each hand. At the top position, tighten your ab muscles while waving the flashlight beams back and forth on the wall—your cat will chase them.
9. Cat “light” cardio
A mock jump rope exercise with flashlights will get your heart pumping as your cat chases the light.
How to: Hold a mini flashlight in each hand, about 10 feet away from a wall. Pretend to jump rope (you’re not actually holding a rope, just mimic the motion with your arms and legs). The light will bounce on the wall in front of you, and your cat will get a short burst of exercise as she tries to catch the light.
10. Curious cat curls
Sculpt your biceps while your cat jumps and stretches.
How to: Tie a light toy with a string to your dumbbells. Fluffy will go crazy trying to catch the toy as you curl up and down.