Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Running, Walking, or Racing: Exercising With YourPet


Pet Column for the week of August 24, 1998


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Sarah Probst
Information Specialist

Don't let the end of summer end your exercise regimen! If not for your own sake, get out
and exercise for your pet's sake. "Exercise is good for your pet for the same reasons that it
is good for you," says Dr. Linda Berent, veterinarian formerly at the University of Illinois College of
Veterinary Medicine. For the past three years, Dr. Berent has observed pets and their
owners walking and running while she served as an on-site veterinarian at Omega Tau
Sigma Professional Veterinary Fraternity's annual 5K pet race. Here are her tips for
exercising with your pet.

Most important, keep your pet on a leash while exercising. This is advisable even in parks
where you are allowed to let your dog off the leash. "Dogs may be fine until they meet that
one dog they hate," says Dr. Berent. Having your dog on a leash shows that you care for
your dog and respect other people and their pets enjoying the same area. Leashing your
dog is often a municipal law, punishable with fines up to $500. It prevents exposing others
to unwanted encounters with your pet. In addition, leashing can stop your dog from
following that squirrel across the street into traffic. In light of this, dogs participating in the
pet race must be on a leash.

Before you go on a long hike or run 5 kilometers in the pet race, your pet needs
conditioning. "Take long walks or runs to work them up to the goal distance. Just because
your dog runs in the yard and chases balls doesn't guarantee that he can run 5 kilometers on
a nice warm summer morning. At the pet race, the dogs who do best are the ones whose
owners run with them all the time," Dr. Berent says. Exercising with your dog at the
temperature probable for the planned hike or run is a good idea as well.

Evaluate your pet's physique before your exercise adventure. "We always have
veterinarians and veterinary students looking at the animals before the race. We try to move
any that look too young, too old, or too heavy from the running to the walking category. In
some cases, we try to talk them out of participating with their pets," she says.

While exercising with your pet, continue to evaluate your pet's condition. Your dog will let
you know what pace is good. "If your dog or you are out of shape, walk with your pet until
you both are ready to pick up the pace. Rest often if your pet seems uncomfortable," says
Dr. Berent. Limping, panting excessively, increased salivation, slowing down, or sitting
down are all signs that your pet needs a break. When this happens at the pet race, Dr.
Berent will ask the owner to stop. She helps cool the pet down with on-site first aid. "It's
important to have water or shade to rest in along the way. Or have a hose to cool them
down with. That feel's great on a hot summer day if you are wearing a fur coat!"

If overheating progresses, dogs can get depressed, vomit, seizure and even have brain
damage or multi-organ failure. "Owners should take a rectal temperature if they suspect a
heat stress or a heat stroke. If the temperature is over 106 degrees, get the animal into a tub
of cool water and call you veterinarian," advises Dr. Berent.

"We have an average of 2 to 4 dogs overheat at the race every year. Most are older,
overweight dogs with longer coats. Once we get them into the tub and into air conditioning,
most are fine within the hour," adds Dr. Berent.

"I encourage exercising with your pet. It's good for you. It's good for them," Dr. Berent
concludes. Walking, running and racing in events like the pet race are great opportunities to
continue keeping yourself and your pet in shape for life.

The Fifth Annual Pet Race will take place on September 13, 1998, at 9 a.m. at the
University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, 2001 South Lincoln Avenue, in
Urbana. Last year over $1500 dollars was donated to Canine Companions for
Independence. This year's race is being held in memory of veterinary student Lisa Coole,
who died in a car accident last spring shortly after finals. Lisa worked hard helping organize
this year's race.

For further information about exercising with your pet, contact your local veterinarian. For
more information, about the pet race, contact Omega Tau Sigma Professional Veterinary
Fraternity, 801 Oregon Street, Urbana, IL 61801; (217) 367-3790.