'WEATHER' or not:

'WEATHER' or not:

It can be hard to stick to an exercise routine when the winter weather makes it infinitely easier to just stay indoors — for people and for their pets. But just like their owners, pets need a steady exercise routine to stay healthy and happy, whatever the weather.

Does the winter weather mean you should change your pet's exercise routine? Not as much as you might think, says Dr. Mike Motschenbacher, veterinarian with Animal Clinic of Rogue River. "Whatever your pet is used to in the summer should be fine in the winter," he says, although he points out that some animals will tolerate exposure to cold weather better than others.

Your pet's weather tolerance may vary by breed, particularly for dogs, says Kirsten Salvito, certified dog trainer and owner of Pawsitively Bully Dog Training in Eagle Point. Some additional factors will also play a part in their winter stamina. "A lot of it is going to depend on the age and condition of the dog," she reminds. Older dogs with arthritis or a smaller or very young dog may be more susceptible to the cold. Active animals will be warmer than those that just sit outside. And their fur matters, too. "Anything big and hairy will do better outside," says Salvito with a laugh.

Motschenbacher agrees. "Some dogs' fur sheds the snow but other dogs' fur collects clumps of snow." Dogs with hair between their footpads may also have trouble with ice clumps on a snowy day. If it's a real problem, pet "booties" protect their feet and can help them stay warm. "Your dogs lose heat mostly through their ears and their feet," reminds Salvito. If you're in a town where de-icer is used on the streets the boots provide extra protection, she adds. "It can be toxic to them."

And horses benefit from some common sense awareness, too. "My concern is with footing," says Motschenbacher and adds, "You don't want snow to build up in their hooves" or have them slip on a muddy trail. With any animal, Motschenbacher says, there are some obvious indicators that the weather is a problem. "If they're shivering, obviously they're too cold," he points out. He also reminds, "If you're running your dog, look at the whites of their eyes. If they look bloodshot at all, it's a sign they're overheating."

If you really can't be outside, what can you do indoors?

"If they're a small animal in the house," says Motschenbacher, "you can play fetch. That's good exercise." Cats also benefit from play although may lose interest more quickly. "Cats' aerobic capacity is more limited. They are hunt and ambush types of creatures."

"We play a lot of hide and seek," adds Salvito. Have the pet sit and stay, then hide treats for them to find. Or, try hiding a family member for them to track instead. Salvito also recommends puzzles or problem-solving toys for dogs. An easy example is to put a treat or some kibble in a gallon jug or container and let them figure out how to open it and get it out. And she also reminds that being stuck indoors is a prime time to work on training, another outlet for their energy. And some animals can even use your treadmill for their workout. "You have to train them," points out Motschenbacher, but it provides valuable exercise, too.

"The more exercise and stimulation your dog gets, the fewer behavior problems you have," says Salvito "They're a lot happier if they have something to do." So don't let winter slow you down. Get your pet moving and you'll both benefit!

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