Running with dogs healthy for pet and owner
SPOKANE, WASH.—Katrina Mealey runs at least 1.5 kilometres regularly with her 13-year-old Jack Russell terrier.
While training for marathons, she brings her older dog home and immediately goes back out on the trail with her young German Shorthaired Pointer to run another seven to 13 km.
Such steps simply keep her pets’ health in mind as much as her own, said the College of Veterinary Medicine professor at Washington State University in Pullman. She’s also chair of Small Animal Medicine and Research at the college.
“With science, we don’t know if dogs get the euphoria or the runner’s high,” Mealey said. “We do know they certainly get the health benefits. I’m sure many of your readers know if you say ‘leash’ or ‘go’ out loud, dogs go crazy. They want to go.”
In fact, Mealey has to spell out l-e-a-s-h in her own household to avoid frenzy. Once outside, she suggests pet owners consider certain health factors for dogs as well as steps for their better comfort, from pad protection to carrying extra water for them.
Definitely take them along, though. Pet obesity is becoming a national concern, she said, often because dogs and cats get too many treats and not enough activity. Those regular walks or runs with canine companions are healthy for both parties.
But if you’ve never jogged with a dog before, consider having a veterinarian clear it first, Mealey said. Start slow and work up to longer lengths for runs, she added, especially if the dog is overweight, a puppy or a geriatric canine.
“They need to make sure their dog doesn’t have a health issue, like heart problems, asthma-like diseases, joint problems,” she said. “Before you start physical activity, just as they recommend for people, dogs can have some of the same health issues, so check in with a vet.”
Regarding weather, Mealey said heat probably is more of a concern than frigid temperatures.
“People should be careful about running their dogs in the heat,” Mealey said. “It might be better to go in early morning or the evening. Dogs can build up body temperature pretty quickly. Consider having a thermometer for only the dog. On a hot day, they can get up to 105 to 106 degrees.”
On average, a dog’s normal body temperature is 101.5 degrees, according the American Kennel Association. Small dogs may have a slightly lower temperatures and large dogs slightly higher.
Mealey also thinks about dogs’ pads hitting hot pavement or picking up de-icer salt used on sidewalks. Manufactured dog booties can prevent issues.
Packing water, using a sturdy leash and considering dogs’ foot safety are three crucial steps for running distances with a canine companion, said Aquila Brown, owner of Yuppy Puppy in Spokane. She’s also a former veterinary assistant.
“The best piece of advice I can give for running, especially in an urban environment, is put your hand directly on sidewalk and if you can’t hold it there for 30 seconds without wanting to lift your hand, your dog should not be doing that either,” she said.
Brown sees dog owners in her stores seeking specialty booties that go over pets’ paws, including ones specific for winter use and another to protect pads against the heat and rough surfaces. It’s typically in response to paw problems.
“It’s not something people tend to think about until they see their dog limping or they have a foot injury,” Brown said. “Normally, people don’t think about it. You’d like to think dogs feet are tough, then you realize they do get chafed pads or scraps from the sidewalk, and then they come looking for booties.”
For convenient ways to pack water, Brown recommends two different types of water bottles. One is a squeezable water bottle with an attached bowl. Another, she said, is similar to a hamster bottle but larger and geared to a dog and allows for controlled water dispensing.
The most important thing is to keep your dog on a leash, according to Brown.
“People often think their dog will stay right with them, but there are so many distractions, so keeping your dog on a leash is not only safe for you and your dog, but also other dogs in your environment.”
Don’t let excuses rule. Definitely run or walk with dogs regularly, for a dual benefit, Brown added.
“Dogs lead a pretty sedentary lifestyle, especially spoiled dogs because we keep them inside, and we give them everything they could ever want, so why would they ever run or chase anything?
“There are two good reasons to run with dogs. One is it’s physically exhausting, and if they’re on a leash and you’re controlling their behaviour, it’s also mentally exhausting. That’s a twofold thing.”
Here are additional tips:
- Watch a dog’s body language: If he’s suddenly lagging behind you, or panting harder than usual, it’s time to ease up.
- Be watchful of both the position of the dog and leash, to avoid being tripped up by either. Many running articles suggest avoiding retractable leashes because they provide too much room and can tangle you up. A one- to two-metre leather leash is a common suggestion.
- An American Kennel Club blog on running with dogs suggests use of paw balm for protection of pads on snow or ice. It will minimize dry skin and damage that salt can cause. Reapply balm after returning home. Balms are found at pet stores or can be made from a DIY recipe.
- Some dogs get skittish around bicycles, so perhaps avoid popular cycling areas. You also might want to avoid zones where a lot of dogs hang out.
- Be willing to make a stop for water, or to use that plastic bag you brought to clean up after your dog.