Running Into Spring: How to Keep Your Pets Active
By Kristin Bieling
In the DC region, April brings the first real sign of spring after a long and cold winter. April means longer days with more sunshine and time for people to play in our expansive network of parks and trails. It also signals it’s time for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll and the blooming of our world-famous cherry blossoms. For runners and fitness enthusiasts in the area though, April means one thing: the Boston Marathon.
Every year on the third Monday of April, thousands of runners toe the start line for the renowned marathon, which is 26.2 miles. According to the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), which owns and sponsors the race, over 30,000 people are entered for 2022 and they expect over 500,000 spectators. Runners train for months, sometimes years, to qualify.
While training for a marathon or engaging in other forms of exercise will keep us fit, we also need to ensure our furry friends stay fit too.
Refer to these tips for exercising with your dog, according to American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA):
- Ask an expert. Always consult your vet before beginning a fitness regimen for your pooch. Rule out any health concerns and watch for pain or discomfort during or after exercise.
- Younger dogs: Remember that pups under 18 months old shouldn’t participate in long periods of jogging or running as their bones are still forming. Brisk, shorter walks are a good substitute during this time. Also consider a less intense game of fetch in your yard or at a local park versus long runs.
- Training time: Runners crossing the finish line in record times at the Boston Marathon certainly didn’t jump off the couch and into their running shoes. Just like humans, dogs need sufficient time to become conditioned for longer runs. Start slowly and add a few extra minutes of running each week to build up their endurance.
- Too hot to handle: Despite our typically lovely spring and fall seasons in the DC region, summer is usually hot and humid. If it feels too hot and sticky for you, your pooch will feel the same. Additionally, unlike humans, dogs cannot sweat to stay cool and run a risk of overheating during hot days. The pavement can also burn their paws. Consider shorter, less intense workouts during hot weather or change your running schedule to the early morning or late evening when the sun is less brutal. Always remember to bring water for both yourself and your pup.
- Identification: Most importantly, never let your dog off leash unless you’re in a safe area where this is permitted. Ensure your pup always wears its collar with updated contact information.
Although cat lovers may wish they could take their feline friend on long walks with them, this is unfortunately not the case for most. Fiercely independent, cats prefer to go their own way and are happiest in their known environment. However, there’s still plenty of ways to ensure they get the exercise they need to thrive. Refer to these tips from the Humane Society of the United States:
- Jump around: Cats are natural climbers and are unparalleled jumpers. Consider purchasing a “cat tree” for your home. Sold at many online retailers and at local pet stores, cat trees come in all shapes and sizes to fit whatever space you have. These structures create fun, indoor climbing opportunities for your cat that they might not otherwise have. Consider placing the cat tree near a window or tree so your cat can make friends with the birds outside. Additionally, having their own specific structure may keep them from climbing on other household items, like your fridge or kitchen counters…
- Playtime: Carve out time each day to engage your cat. Try out different toys, like balls with bells, ribbons, feathers, string, and their arch nemesis: the dreaded red dot laser pointer! Local and online retailers also sell cat puzzles that allow you to hide treats inside. These keep your cat’s mind active and help simulate hunting in the wild. Sometimes the best toys are the ones that aren’t toys at all. Consider recycling cardboard boxes into makeshift cat forts or letting your cat hide in paper bags from the grocery store. Stow away any toys or materials that could inadvertently harm them when you’re not around, like strings or ribbons.
- Throw a curve ball: Change it up so your cat doesn’t get bored. Is there a specific catnip toy they like? Let them enjoy it for a while before exchanging it with something new. Your cat will be more interested and likely stay engaged for longer.
- Create a catio. Are you handy? If so, why not build a “catio” (a patio for your cat)! Creating an enclosed, safe, outdoor structure will allow your cat to feel the breeze in its fur from the comfort and safety of home! If you already have a balcony or porch, some netting and staples could be the perfect quick fix for a catio.
- Safety first. Even your indoor cat should be suited up with identification and a collar. Open windows and doors provide a tempting escape route for cats, especially during warmer months. Consider microchipping your cat with updated contact information. This could ensure your pet’s safety in the event they are separated from you.
Let’s savor this perfect weather and get ourselves and our pets some exercise. Fitness and health isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon!
About the Author: You can find Kristen on the W&OD and Mount Vernon trails training for her next race and stopping mid-run to pet all the dogs. She lives in Arlington with her 2 cats, Atticus and Harrison. They make the rules and she just follows them.
The Boston Athletic Association
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
Humane Society of the United States, humanesociety.org