navigating the great outdoors during winter with pets
Did you know January was “Walk Your Pet Month?” I have no idea why anyone would designate one of the coldest months of the year to this particular task, but it’s true. Maybe it can coincide with one of your (or your pet’s) New Year’s resolutions, because walking with your pet is good for the heart, body and soul!
Walking your pet for 30 minutes at least once a day (preferably twice a day) has multiple benefits. Getting out of the house and seeing and smelling the world provides your pet with both mental and physical stimulation. These daily walks can actually prevent behavior problems for this very reason. And don’t forget the added benefits to your health – walking burns calories and may qualify as your cardiovascular workout for the day.
If you and your pet are both out of shape, start slow. Over time, you can build up both time and distance until you reach your 30-minute goal. Geriatric pets can still benefit from walks as well, as long as walking is not too painful. They may not make it quite as far as your younger dog, so keep an eye out for signs of pain or fatigue.
Winter walks often occur in the dark, as most of us get home from work after night has fallen. Be sure to wear reflective clothing and outfit your pet with reflective jackets or collars as well. Collars with strong LED lights are also available, as are headlamps and leashes equipped with flashlights. The goal is to be seen by drivers, but also keep in mind that should your pet slip her lead, she will still be visible in the dark.
Don’t forget to bring treats on your walk to foster good behavior. Your dog should not be pulling on the leash. If she is, talk to your veterinarian about ways to correct this, including the use of a head collar. When strangers approach, make sure your dog is polite. Use treats to keep her attention and distract her from oncoming neighbors and their pets, or treat her to a nice reward after she has interacted with them in an acceptable way.
Don’t forget to bring baggies for your pet’s waste. Everyone hates to find mystery poop in their front yard, but the bigger problem here is the spread of disease, which can occur in both fresh and old feces. Cleaning up your pet’s waste makes you a good neighbor and a champion of public health.
Cats can join
“This is all well and good,” you may be thinking, “but I don’t have a dog. I have a cat.” Don’t fret! Your cat can also be trained to walk on a leash. Time and patience are all it takes to get your cat used to a leash, and for indoor cats, this outdoor time is such a treat. I know it is unusual to see, and maybe you will become the talk of the neighborhood, but the benefits to you and your cat will be worth it. I recently visited a park in Los Angeles and it made me so happy to see a couple hanging out there on a blanket – with their cat! The cat seemed to love basking in the sun as much as his owners.
This year can be the start of a brand new tradition – daily walks! Celebrate by hitting the roads or trails with your four-legged family members.