The arrival of spring means the arrival of good weather and a desire to get out and enjoy outdoor activities with your best friend. Dogs, like people, enjoy getting outside and also reap the benefits from healthy exercise and fresh air.
However, just as people need to ease into new activities after a long winter, the veterinarians at Colorado State University advise that we do the same for our pets. The following are some tips for pet owners who plan a busy outdoor schedule this spring.
- The first and most important step is to check with your veterinarian to be sure that your pet has a clean bill of health. If your dog has a history of medical problems, ask your veterinarian to help you plan an appropriate exercise program.
- Take into consideration the age of your dog. Remember that the level of exercise that is healthy for a young dog may not be so for an older dog.
- If you have not exercised your dog in a while, go slow at first. Whether you are walking, running or throwing the ball, start with short periods of activity at slow speeds and gradually increase the time and distance.
- Watch the temperature. Avoid strenuous exercise on warm days. With a full winter coat, even moderate exercise on a mild day can lead to heat exhaustion for your pet. If you see your dog is panting excessively or seeking shade, it may be time for a break and some fresh water.
- Avoid activities with puppies less than 20 weeks of age that brings them into contact with other dogs. During these first three months, puppies are at a high risk of contracting infectious diseases like parvovirus enteritis and distemper. Remember, too, that too much exertion for a young puppy could lead to serious injuries or low blood sugar.
- Avoid strenuous activity directly before or after a meal. On warm days, offer small amounts of water before and after the activity. If the activity last more than an hour, such as a long hike, bring fresh water for the dog, too. Don’t rely on mountain lakes and streams as they could be the source of intestinal parasites.
- If your dog has not been out much over the winter, begin by walking or running on soft surfaces such as dirt, grass or sand until his paw pads toughen up. It is best to keep your dog’s nails trimmed to avoid tearing them during activity.
- Keep your dog on a leash when walking or running. This allows you to maintain control and to keep your dog safe. If you are running or walking at night, be sure to wear reflective or light-colored clothing and use a reflective collar or tie a brightly colored bandana around the dog’s neck.
- On camping trips or if you walk your dog in heavily wooded areas, be sure to check the animal’s eyes, ears, feet and coat for burrs, seeds, foxtail and dirt. Prompt and careful removal of any irritants is important, especially in or around the eye. The best method for clearing any foreign material from the eye is to wash the eyes with a simple saline solution that can be purchased over the counter at most drug stores.
- Ticks are a real problem, especially in Colorado in the spring. Regular grooming is important in controlling these pests. If you find a tick on your animal, remove it carefully with tweezers, not with bare hands. Try to avoid twisting or pulling in such a way that would cause the body to break off and leave the tick’s head in the skin. Your veterinarian can recommend a good tick-control product.
- Know local laws. Be aware of "pooper scooper" and local leash requirements. Some public parks and specific dog parks allow dogs to run off-leash. Training your dog to follow your commands when outdoors can save you a lot of headaches, especially when introducing your dog to other dogs or to other people who may not be pet-friendly.