NEED AN EXERCISE PARTNER? YOUR DOG WILL NEVER LET YOU DOWN
Some dogs, like some people, are high maintenance -- they need lots and lots of attention. For many dogs, the attention they need comes in a category that most Americans say they don't have time for already -- exercise.
All dogs need exercise. Even little ones. Even old ones. Even ones who really don't seem to mind a sedentary lifestyle. They need exercise, just as you do, and for the same reasons. Exercise helps keep their hearts healthy, helps keep their joints strong, helps keep their weight down. (Did you know that veterinarians say the majority -- yes, more than half -- of all dogs they see are overweight or obese? The statistics are even worse for some breeds that just seem to be born to blimp -- Flabadors, er, I mean Labradors, beagles and pugs, to name just three.)
Exercise -- or lack of, more specifically -- is also one of the main reasons why dogs misbehave. They need to burn energy. If you don't find something for them to do, they'll find something to do on their own, and chances are you won't like their choices.
Now, while it's true you can get a doggie treadmill (some look like human treadmills; the ones for small dogs look more like hamster wheels), or get someone else to exercise your pet, the fact is that getting out with your dog is good for you both. That's not just me talking, by the way: Studies have shown that people who walk their dogs benefit from the activity as much as their dogs do. So much so that I wrote a book on the subject, "Fitness Unleashed! A Dog and Owner's Guide to Losing Weight and Gaining Health Together," with Dr. Robert Kushner, an internist and nutritionist who's an expert on human weight loss.
The least amount of time you can "get away with" is probably an hour a day, all total, for feeding, cleaning up after, and a little play and exercise. For larger dogs -- or high-energy small ones, such as most of the terriers -- there simply isn't a high end on the amount of time you can spend with them. They'll happily jump up and be ready to go every time you pick up the leash or the car keys. But really, dogs need about a half-hour a day of heart-thumping exercise.
There are always imaginative ways to get your dog exercised without you exhausting yourself, of course. Fetch is always great for this, and swimming is another energy burner, especially when combined with fetch. Toys that require dogs to work for small food rewards also count, and are really well-suited to those times when you simply can't keep your dog busy, such as when you're out earning the kibble.
If you're in a large metro area, you can likely hire dog walkers, hikers or runners, or send your dog to day care. There's nothing wrong with any of it, of course, except that you'll be missing out on a great time with your own dog.
Make time for your dog, and you'll both be healthier for the time you spend. It's worth it! Talk to your veterinarian before you get started, though, just to make sure everything's OK before you step out with your best friend.
(Dr. Marty Becker is currently on a national tour for "Your Cat: The Owner's Manual," his newest book with fellow Pet Connection writer Gina Spadafori. "Your Dog: The Owner's Manual" is now available in paperback. For information on where to meet Dr. Becker, visit Vetstreet.com/dr-marty-becker.)
What to do and not do
about lawn spots
Q: Last summer, my lawn was covered in brown spots from my dog urinating on it. Are there supplements or a special diet I can give her so that doesn't happen? -- G.B., via Facebook
A: Because female dogs deposit a lot of urine in one concentrated spot compared to male dogs, who usually leave small amounts of urine in a number of locations, this tends to be more a problem with females than males.
Unfortunately, supplements or medications that change the pH of urine aren't going to help, because that's not what makes the grass brown. Urine has a lot of nitrogen in it. In small, dilute amounts, nitrogen is a fertilizer. When it's too concentrated, though, it will "burn" the grass. In fact, you might have noticed that around the edges of the brown spot, there is a ring of very green, lush grass. That's due to the more diluted urine at the edges of the spot where the dog urinated.
There are only two main solutions. The first is to dilute the urine so it isn't so concentrated, either in the bladder or on the lawn.
Some suggestions, such as giving the dog tomato juice, are thought to work by increasing the sodium in the diet, stimulating thirst, and thus diluting the urine right in the bladder. This isn't a good idea, as high-sodium diets can make some health problems worse, and probably won't create a sufficiently diluted urine to save your lawn either way.
A better method of diluting the urine is to pour a gallon or so of water directly on the spot where your dog urinates.
The second solution is to train your dog to urinate elsewhere. This requires taking her to a specified area of your property, waiting until she urinates there, and rewarding and praising her. Don't give her any opportunity to urinate anywhere else for a couple of weeks, and she should get the idea from then on. -- Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.
Go a size bigger
for a bird's cage
-- Nothing is more important to your bird than the cage you buy and where you put it. You want your bird to be safe and feel secure in his cage. He should also feel included as part of the family, even when he's confined. A proper cage -- well-designed, large, and made of safe and sturdy materials -- and its proper placement can achieve all these goals.
A good rule of thumb on size is to choose the next cage larger from what the labeling says. Look for smooth welds and no paint chipping. Your bird will be working as best he can to destroy his cage, so you don't want him breaking off any toxic pieces. Although the kitchen may seem like an ideal place for your bird's cage, it's really not a good idea. The potential for your bird to breathe deadly fumes, such as those from overheated nonstick cookware, is too high in the kitchen. These products can kill your bird before you even realize there's a problem.
-- About 80 percent of all cat owners provide a litter box for their pets, and about three-quarters of those litter boxes are filled with clumping litter, which studies have shown is favored by cats. Although behavior experts say that providing more than one litter box is key to preventing inappropriate elimination, only one cat owner in five offers the family cat an extra potty spot, according to the American Pet Products Association.
-- Mikkel Becker and Dr. Marty Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.