TRIPLER ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Hawaii -- Did you know that spending time with your pooch is a great way to work on the eight pillars of Total Force Fitness? While National Walk Your Dog Month is over, the health benefits can last all year long!
So get up, get moving, and don't let those frigid winter temperatures slow you down. Walking is a great way to keep you and your dog physically, psychologically, and socially fit this winter.
"Don't think of it as a chore," explained Maj. Tselane Ware, director of Public Health Command-Pacific Veterinary Health Services Directorate. "Going for a walk is a good bonding time between you and your dog. It helps with social and physical health, so you and your dog are not couch potatoes."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regular walking or playing with pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels. Pets can also help manage loneliness and depression by providing companionship.
"Dog walking not only encourages people to get out of their homes and socialize, but pets also benefit. Owners can see if their dog has any health or behavioral issues," Ware explained.
Many pet owners are often unaware of bowel or urinary issues when a pet is only let out in a yard.
"When you walk your dog you can actually see if they are having a hard time going to the bathroom, or have issues like worms," Ware continued. "Often owners don't even know there is an issue until they take their pet for a walk."
Even a short walk around the block on a cold day can make a big difference.
"Certain types of dog breeds really do require multiple walks throughout the day," explained Maj. Jean Rubanick, chief of Animal Health at the PHC-P VHS Directorate.
According to the American Kennel Club, many dog breeds have been selectively developed for herding, sporting, or working, which means they need to stay active. These types of breeds can get bored or restless and can resort to poor behavior, excessive chewing, digging, and scratching.
"Often pets are cooped up in a home or apartment. So going for a walk provides them needed stimulation," continued Rubanick.
Rubanick warns that not every dog is the same, owners should consider the age and physical needs of the dog before going for a walk.
"Often, older dogs suffer from arthritis," said Rubanick. "While exercise is good, owners should avoid walking arthritic pets on hard surfaces like cement and concrete, and terrain with hills or loose sand."
Instead, she recommends that arthritic pets walk on softer surfaces like grass.
Rubanick also recommends that owners pay attention to winter weather conditions and make special considerations when walking their pets in the cold.
"If it's something that can affect us it can certainly affect the pet," Rubanick explained. "If the ground is extremely cold dogs can get frostbite on their toes or pads. Owners should avoid walking their dogs in freezing rain or on ice. Some pets may even need little boots or jackets to protect them from the cold. Owners just really need to watch for signs of when their pet is ready to go inside."
But before you and your pup head out on a walk, the PHC-P VHS Directorate recommends these tips to make your time together a much more enjoyable experience:
• Incorporate obedience training into the walk.
• Supervise your dog around other dogs and people.
• Know your route ahead of time.
• Consider using a head collar versus a neck collar or harness.
• Keep walks shorter in extreme cold or heat.
• Avoid going for walks in heavy snow or at night.
"The biggest take away that I want military members and their Families to know is that even though it's cold outside, and you may not want to leave your house, walking your dog has really great health benefits for both of you," said Rubanick.
So, put down your phone, grab that leash, and begin this year with a pledge - better health for you and your dog!