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Exercising With Your Dog

by Liz Devitt, DVM

The dog days of summer are here and we all want to spend more time outside.  Whether you and your canine are walking the neighborhood, hiking in the hills, or running races, take time to ensure your adventures are healthy for your hound.
1. Make sure your dog is fit for the activity you choose.

If your dog has been a pooch potato all winter, then asking him to hike ten miles on Sunday could lead to injury that sidelines him for the rest of the season. Just because your dog will keep going—because he would rather limp along with you than be left behind—does not mean he should. 

How do you know when your dog should stop? Learn to spot the early signs of fatigue. First, your eager dog will lower his tail and ears. Then, his feet may scuff the ground and he will start to lag behind you. The rate or effort of panting may increase. By the time you realize you are pulling your dog to keep up, you have gone too far or too fast. Try to tailor your outings to pleasantly tire your dog, not leave him lying abed the next day.

If your dog is overweight, ask your veterinarian to create a realistic weight-loss program. Unlike celebrity dieters who drop twenty pounds over a weekend, you only want your dog to lose one percent of body weight each week. It takes longer, but it’s healthier.

2. Get good gear and carry ID.

I recommend a leash and collar under all circumstances because you never know who you’ll run into...literally. If you get surprised, it is safer to be able to get a handle on your dog immediately. Consider a no-pull harness for headstrong hounds.
 
It only takes an instant for a dog to get lost. The chances of finding your best furry friend are better with a collar, current tags and a microchip.

Put a recent pet photo on your cell phone. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words— particularly if you’re trying to describe the uniqueness of your medium-sized, brown dog.

Outside after dark? Get reflective gear for your dog too.

3. Check your dog’s feet
 
There is an adage in the equine world: “no hoof, no horse”. The same goes for dogs. Check your dog’s paws before and after exercise. It is better to find foxtails before they tunnel under the skin and need surgical removal. Inspect foot pads for soreness, punctures, or cuts. Trim your pup’s nails regularly to avoid torn dewclaws or painful nail cracks.

4. Carry water for two.
 
Don’t count on nature to provide safe drinking water. Bring your own and bring enough for both of you. By the time you notice something obvious, such as excessive panting or dry, tacky gums, your dog could be quite debilitated.
 
Dogs need about an ounce of water per pound every day, but many need to learn to drink more water when their level of activity increases. A little bouillon flavoring may entice your pup to take more fluid.

Unlike people, dogs don’t sweat, so they don’t need electrolyte drinks to replace sodium and potassium.

5. Learn first aid.
 
The more active you are with your dog, the more chances there are for injury. You will be better prepared if you have a pet first aid kit at home and with your travel kit. Consider taking a pet first aid and CPR class through the American Red Cross.

6. Use flea and tick control.
 
Parasites thrive in the summer. Monthly preventatives can keep your dog and you free of health problems that fleas and ticks can transmit.

7. Watch the weather
 
Heatstroke does not just happen in parked cars; it affects any dog who can not cool himself effectively through panting. Once the body temperature starts climbing above 104 degrees, the body keeps cooking inside. The signs of heatstroke are: panting, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, collapse, and death.
 
Dogs with dark coats, short noses and extra weight are at greater risk, but it can happen to any size or breed. When the forescast is for heat and humidity, plan your activities in the cooler, early hours.

These seven points can safeguard summer fun with your four-legged friends. Wag!

Dr. Liz Devitt is a canine sports medicine veterinarian and the race director for All Star Dog Run Santa Cruz, a 5k/10k race for dogs and people.  Visit her website: www.FitForDogs.com. Dr. Devitt practices at Ark Animal Hospital in Santa Cruz, and volunteers to teach pet health classes for the community as well as pet first aid and CPR for the American Red Cross and police K-9 units. 

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