Run for the love of your health - and your pooch

MeiMei Welker, DVM, has been with DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital in Portland, Ore., for five years and currently serves as the hospital’s outreach veterinarian. A veterinarian for 11 years, Dr. Welker enjoys hiking, traveling, gardening and, of course, running with her dog Banjo, a Golden Retriever.

Love running? Why not take your four-legged friend along for the stride?

Going for a run with your dog can be mutually beneficial. It’s a great opportunity to spend time together – plus, you both benefit from the exercise. Even when you aren’t feeling up for a run, your dog can motivate you by giving you his best I’m-so-disappointed-in-you stare while you’re nestled comfortably on the couch (this, based on personal experience). In order to maximize the benefits and minimize any ill-effects on your friend, follow these basic guidelines before you get up and go:

Go slow to start. If you’re an avid runner and decide to bring your dog along, start out slowly. Sudden rigorous exercise can cause injuries – especially if your canine companion is overweight. Just like humans, dogs who carry extra weight bear added stress on their joints. This added stress is made worse when your dog isn’t given the chance to develop adequate muscle mass to support those joints. The repetitive motion of a long run can cause joint inflammation, pain or a worse injury, such as a torn ligament. Plan to start with a mile or two with your dog, and slowly increase length and intensity from there. You can always take a second solo run, if you’re accustomed to longer distances.

Break in your dog’s “foot”-wear. Your dog’s running shoes aren’t as fancy as yours. His pads can be worn down quickly – particularly, when running on pavement, and especially when the pads have been softened by water. Regular runs will build up and toughen the pads. On sunny days, beware of hot pavement, which can be damaging to your dog’s pads, too, causing the surface of the pad to blister and slough off. Though the foot pad surface regenerates quickly, he’ll be uncomfortable and will have to sit on the sidelines for a few days before he can return to running with you.

Heed the heat. You’ll want to let your dog acclimate to warmer weather before taking him for a run. Just because he’s used to running with you in 50 degrees and rain does not mean he’s ready for a five-mile run on that first miraculous 75-degree day. A sudden run in hot temperatures can lead to heat stroke. Dogs do not sweat; they rely on their respiratory systems for cooling, which is why they pant. A shorter, easygoing run on a warmer-than-usual day would be fine, as long as you can provide plenty of fresh water along the way. Dogs such as pugs, boxers and other brachycephalic (smooshed face) breeds are less efficient at heat exchange due to their smaller airways, so exercise extra caution when running with them.

Leave your puppy at home when you run. Use extreme caution when exercising young dogs – particularly those who are younger than a year old. Your pup’s bones are still growing, and the repetitive stress on open growth plates can be detrimental and may lead to long-term problems. Puppies, more than any other age of dog, need exercise, but in their first year of life, running is not the best choice. Once they reach their first birthday, you can slowly introduce them to short, easygoing runs.

As with humans, each dog has unique preferences. While some pooches may enjoy panting alongside their faithful friends on a run, other dogs may be happier fetching the ball at the park. Pay attention to your dog’s demeanor; if the next time you strap on your running shoes and grab the leash, he brings you the tennis ball, take that as a sign. If you’re lucky enough to have a dog who loves to run as much as you do, following these guidelines will help maximize your pet’s enjoyment – and yours – and will allow your dog to run with you for many years to come.

Need a reason to take your dog for a run? Try the Run for the Love of Dove 5-kilometer fundraiser. Bring your dogs, your little people and their strollers, your not-so-little people … and go as fast or as slowly as you want. The annual event is sponsored in part by Providence Health Plan, which also proudly provides health insurance to the amazing folks at DoveLewis who care for your beloved furry friends.