According to the American Animal Hospital Association, approximately 60 percent of dogs and cats are overweight. Probably not coincidentally, the American Heart Association identifies the same percentage of people as overweight. Poor diet and lack of exercise have been identified as the main contributors to both overweight pets and their owners. In the meantime, studies have shown a direct link between obesity on life impacting chronic medical conditions for both humans and their pets.
According to a Harvard University study, walking 30 minutes a day reduces the risk and costs associated with many chronic medical conditions in people. That goes for pets as well. For people, it takes about 3,500 calories to burn one pound, based on the weight of the individual. A 150-pound person would burn 100 calories during a brisk one-mile walk. That person would need to walk 35 miles to lose one pound. Pets burn calories at approximately the same ratio. A 40-pound dog would burn 32 calories in a mile. They would have to walk that same 35 miles to lose one pound, explains Dr. Ernie Ward of the Pet Health Network.
Besides reducing the risk of many chronic medical conditions, walking also strengthens bones and muscles while improving balance and coordination. In addition, walking releases “happy” endorphins that make everything feel better.
Preventive care goes a long way.
- Put protective footwear on pets. Hot pavement or sand can burn paw pads. Rough terrain or broken glass may lacerate paws. Keep first aid items at hand, including bandages, antibiotic ointment, eyewash, vet wraps and slings. These are all fit in a fanny pack that can be brought on longer walks or hikes.
- Pay attention to surroundings. Watch where we walk as uneven ground can cause trips and falls. Wild animals, including snakes, predators and squirrels, may cause harm or present a flight risk. Be aware of car traffic when walking on the sides of roads. Check pets for ticks frequently.
- Wear weather-appropriate clothing. This includes the summer. If a pet is light colored, maybe opt to use pet-safe sunscreen or light t-shirts to protect them from the sun. Pets can sunburn, especially on the nose. In addition, if they have been shaved down for summer, pets can sunburn on the newly exposed skin. Coconut oil is a good natural sunblock and after-sun treatment that is also good for the dog even if they lick it off.
- Be a good neighbor and pick up pet waste. This prevents contagious diseases from being passed from one pet to another, as well as keeps flies and bacteria to a minimum.
- Carry water in a container or plan a route with streams that a pet can easily drink from. This is especially important if the weather is hot and sunny. If a pet’s gums feel tacky, it’s a sign of dehydration.
- Pace the walk. Start walking out slow, pick up the pace and then slow down again. Both human and pet muscles and ligaments will appreciate it.
- Wear readable ID tags with current phone numbers. If a pet gets away, up-to-date tags give the person who finds them the ability to immediately connect.
- Properly fit collars and harnesses. A collar that is too loose can slip off if you need to tug your pet away from an area or situation. A collar that is too tight can cut off circulation. If a harness is new, stop from time to time during the first outing to check for signs of chafing and adjust as needed.
Walks can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of the pet-human relationship. This is an opportunity to bond while improving everyone’s fitness, well-being and happiness. And, yes, we can take our cats walking as well.