COVID-19 may have made trips to the gym or workout classes more challenging, but the good news is that you have a four-legged fitness buddy waiting at home. Physical activity is a great way for people and pets to reduce stress, build endurance or muscle, and improve overall well-being. Whether you and your pet are couch potatoes or already avid fitness enthusiasts, or your pet says “Woof” or “Meow,” you can find a fun and satisfying way to be active together.

Fitness check for your pet

Before you begin any new fitness program, you should ensure that you and your pet can participate safely. Strenuous exercise in the heat of the day may cause heatstroke in your pet, especially if they are young, old, or flat-faced, or have underlying medical conditions, or a thick or dark coat. Restricting outdoor exercise to the coolest parts of the day and ensuring your pet has time to rest and ample water to drink is best. Older, arthritic pets, or those with certain medical conditions, may need a modified exercise program, and young pets should avoid repetitive exercise on a hard surface until they are skeletally mature. If you have any concerns about your pet’s fitness or health, schedule an evaluation with our Animal Medical Hospital of Naples team to learn the best ways to keep them safe and fit.

Play fetch with your pet

An indoor or outdoor game of fetch can easily be modified to provide exercise for you and your dog, no matter their fetching style:

  • The perfect retriever — Throw the ball for your dog, and then do some lunges, burpees, push-ups, crunches, or other similar activities while your dog reliably brings the ball right back to you, and drops it at your feet or into your outstretched hand. 
  • The not-retriever — If your dog tears off after the ball but runs back empty-mouthed, run over to the ball yourself, throw it for your dog, and repeat the process. Alternatively, throw the ball for your dog, and demonstrate retrieving the ball in an attempt—perhaps futile—to help them understand what you want them to do. Feel free to throw in other exercises at will.
  • The excited retriever — Do your exercises while your dog carries the ball and does zoomies in the yard for 10 minutes, taking care that you do not get plowed over or leapt on by an overly excited dog. 

These exercise strategies can also be used if you have a dog-like cat who enjoys playing fetch.

Put some miles on your pet’s feet

Depending your fitness level and your pet’s, consider one of these options:

  • Walk or hike — Head out on your tried-and-true path around the neighborhood, or drive to a nearby neighborhood or hiking trail for a change of scenery. If your pet can’t walk that far but loves to be outside with you, let them ride in a pet stroller or wagon. Some cats also enjoy walking on a leash or riding in a stroller.
  • Run — Dogs make great training partners, whether you run for fun or are training for your next race. 
  • Bike or rollerblade — Some dogs can learn to run alongside while you bike or rollerblade. A dog who can’t run with you may enjoy being pulled in a bike carrier.

Think outside the box for pet exercise

You can teach your dog to dance, have them do tricks while you do an exercise video, or participate together in a dog sport such as agility, lure-coursing, herding, scent work, rally, or field trials. This American Kennel Club quiz is a fun way to find the best sport for you and your dog. 

The cat exercise conundrum

You may be wondering how you can possibly exercise with your feline friend who naps most of the day, and has no interest in walking on a leash or learning a sport. Often the best solution is to incorporate their exercise into your workout routine. Try these options:

  • Cat-isthenics — While you do calisthenic exercises, participate in your favorite workout video, or ride the exercise bike, encourage your cat to chase a feather toy, fake mouse, or other favorite item. 
  • Stair stepper — While you are hard at work on the stairmaster, let your cat join in the fun by enticing them with a laser pointer to jump up and down the levels of the cat tower, or run up and down the stairs.
  • Food hunt — If you don’t want your cat underfoot while you are jumping rope, or feeling left out when you head out for a jog, scatter food around the house that they can hunt. Alternatively, skip the workout, and have a friend hide food around the house for you, too.

Ready to lace up your sneakers, don those “had to buy” leggings, stock up on frisbees and tennis balls, and spend way too much time reading Amazon reviews for cat toys? If you have any questions or concerns about starting an exercise program with your pet, give us a call—for the pet side of things. Any people-related questions are between you and your trainer or physician.