As we dive into Canine Fitness Month, pet owners are eager to ensure their furry pals are in tip-top shape. And who better to guide us than Dr. Chris Vanderhoof?

Dr. Vanderhoof graduated from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine (VMCVM) at Virginia Tech in 2013, where he also earned a Master of Public Health degree. After finishing a comprehensive internship at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in New Jersey, he settled in the bustling Washington D.C. area as a trusted general practitioner. In this exclusive Q&A, Dr. Vanderhoof shares valuable insights and top tips for maximizing your pup's fitness during this special month dedicated to their health and well-being.

Stop Googling - Ask a Real Vet

How can I assess my dog’s current fitness level?

Start out with seeing how your dog can tolerate a basic exercise requirement of 30 minutes per day. If your dog can go for a 15 minute walk twice a day, then they at least are able to make the basic fitness level.

If your dog is unable to finish a 15 minute walk without stopping or has a hard time, try to assess where the limitations are. Some common causes of limited exercise ability include: arthritis, being overweight, respiratory disease, and heart disease. Make sure your dog has a physical exam with your veterinarian at least every year to have these different conditions assessed.

If your dog has no problem with the 30 minutes per day, you can try increasing the amount of time you’re exercising or distance you’re walking. Do it slowly. For example, maybe take a longer 45 minute or hour long walk on a certain day of the week.

You can also add in other types of exercise like fetch, which requires quick bursts of speed, and see how your dog is able to work with different types of activities.

What benefits do GPS trackers offer for canine fitness, beyond location?

You can track the mileage you and your dog go. If you’re doing 30 minutes per day, how far of a distance is that? You could be doing thirty minutes of walking or jogging depending on your own ability, and that’s going to mean different distances.

When you know the distance and type of activity your dog is doing, you may be able to estimate the calories your dog is burning every day. According to one study, dogs will burn 0.8 calories per pound per mile at a walking pace.

There is another benefit of having a GPS tracker for your dog. If your dog gets overstimulated seeing squirrels, other dogs, and everything else in spring for the first time in a few months and breaks away from you in their excitement to chase something, you will be able to track your dog and expect a quicker recovery.

How often and how long should I exercise my dog?

The basic rule for dog exercise is to get in at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. For many people, this may be a 15 minute walk in the morning and again in the evening.

But this does mean you can do more! In addition to walks, you can add in games with you and playdates with other dogs.

You can also do more than just walk. Dogs love jogging and running with their humans too. But make sure if your dog is not used to jogging or running, that you gradually work up to that level over a couple of weeks.

How to spot an overweight dog and use fitness to address it?

The best way to see if a dog is overweight is to use a body condition scoring system. Body condition score (BCS) assesses the degree of fat accumulation that your dog has. You can use the body condition score to determine the percentage overweight your dog is, and determine how much weight your dog needs to lose.

For a rougher estimate, you can use dog breed standard weight ranges, but there can be some variability within breeds and these weight ranges will not apply well to breed crosses or mixed breeds. Body condition score works for any dog, regardless of breed or size.

Unfortunately, exercise burns far fewer calories than many people think. There is little data in dogs, but as described in this PetMD article by Dr. Ken Tudor, a 20lb dog walking at a brisk 15 minute mile pace may only burn about 60-65 calories. Four small Milk-Bones (15 Calories each) or 2 medium sized Milk-Bones (40 Calories each) when they get home will easily replace (or exceed) any calories burned on that walk.

There are many benefits to exercise beyond weight loss, including heart health and maintaining good muscle tone and joint mobility. But it’s important to remember that the amount you exercise your dog will pale in comparison to food and treat restriction when it comes to cutting those calories and reducing weight. Your veterinarian can help you look at your dog’s calorie needs and help you determine a feeding plan to help with weight loss.

Which outdoor activities are most suitable for dogs in spring?

Any outdoor activity you enjoy with your dog can be suitable. This might include just going for longer walks than you did during the winter, now that the weather is warmer.

But you may also enjoy hiking, playing fetch, having playdates with other dogs, or even just running around more in the backyard.

Just be aware that in some areas, it warms up pretty fast. If the outdoor weather is getting over 70 degrees F, especially in a short period of time, like a couple of days, your dog may need some time to adjust to the temperature change, so take it slow.

If you live in an area where you can have unseasonable warm days that can jump from being 40 degrees F one day and 80 degrees F the next, don’t overdo exercise all at once. We might have the desire to get out there and go for a brisk walk, jog, or run for the first time in 3 months, but your dog may have a hard time adjusting to such an abrupt change. In such cases, maybe expect to go for a slightly longer, enjoyable walk at a regular pace that day.

As long as it warms up gradually, you can also gradually work up your dog’s (and your own) exercise level every couple days to where you’d like to be. This helps make sure your dog acclimates to temperature changes and exercise demands.

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