Pet Advice & Ideas

DIY Projects to Make Your Home Pet-Friendly

pet-friendly-DIY-tips

If you're like a lot of new and prospective first-time home buyers, having your own home gives you the opportunity to do something you've always dreamed of ... welcoming a companion animal into your family!

In fact, it turns out that home buying decisions rely significantly on pet-related considerations. For pet parents, a house in a community with pet-oriented features will almost invariably win out over a community with numerous pet restrictions. With over 60% of American households that include a pet or want one, that's many millions of home buyers focused on their pets' needs.

Our love of pets is not just affecting buying habits, it's driving renovation decisions. This summer, countless families will be starting do-it-yourself projects with an eye toward making their homes more suitable or more comfortable for dogs and cats. In this post, we'll be taking a deep dive on some of the most common DIY projects for pet parents. So strap on your toolbelts, recharge your power tools, dig out your measuring tape, crack your knuckles and let's get down to brass tacks. Or, nails, probably nails would be better. To the list!

Hot Dog a Doggie Door!

Your dog wants to go outside. Then he wants to come back in. Then he wants to go outside again. And the cycle repeats. Rather than giving yourself over to the whims of your dog, who quite frankly will be much happier if he can run around the yard whenever the inclination strikes, why not remove yourself from this equation entirely? A dog door offers the ideal solution. And, as far as renovation projects go, relatively easy to install.

Project Difficulty: pretty simple, actually.

Laying Down the P-Lam

Life is not always neat. Dogs and cats can track in all sorts of crud into your home. And sometimes they have accidents, too. Rather than risk a pee incident with your carpeted house, why not upgrade your flooring to something decidedly more pet-friendly? Scratch-resistant, stain-proof plastic laminate flooring offers a great way to avoid the unpleasantness of carpet stains. New homeowners, be forewarned, though ... tearing out old carpet and pads and laying down all new flooring is a bit of a challenge.

Project Difficulty: moderate, but big payoff.

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The Wonderful World of Built-Ins

Like the groovy conversation pits of 60's post-modern ranch houses, the understated elegance of built-ins to accommodate pet food and water bowls, not to mention pet beds, are all the rage with your fellow DIYers. There's no better way to demonstrate that your pets truly matter to you (as in, this house was literally made for you to be here). Functionally, they're a dream. Straightening up for company has never been so simple. Though it is a bit more labor-intensive than first-time DIYers should tackle, if you have a good plan, anything is possible.

Project Difficulty: complex, unless you've had woodworking experience.

The Deluxe Mud Room

Mud rooms are not just for ranches and farm houses anymore. If you have rambunctious doggos who love to romp and wallow in the dirt, and maybe young children who enjoy the same, having a room between the messy great outdoors and the cozy cleanness of your living areas can provide the perfect buffer. Now, savvy homeowners are outfitting their mud rooms with plumbing! While some install an oversized sink that functions as a doggie bathing area, other deluxe mud room conversions also function as a laundry room as well as a changing area. Wouldn't it be nice to peel off dirty clothes and drop them in the wash before you enter your inner sanctuary? The benefits are tangible and numerous, if you're ready for a bigger project.

Project Difficulty: challenging (as they say, when plumbing's involved, best to leave it to the professionals).

The best part of committing to pet-friendly renovation projects, aside from the obvious benefits of each, is that not only is there very little chance you'll regret your decision but also that you'll almost certainly derive great satisfaction from these renos. A recent survey showed that four out five people were very satisfied post-project, even when they paid someone else to do all the work. And that number only goes higher when you do the work yourself! 

So, the only question left now is, what will you build?

Fire Safety & Prevention for Families with Pets

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When my mother was five years old, her house burned down due to a stove that was accidentally left on overnight. Decades later, she still remembers that night as if it were yesterday … the smoke filling the hallways, the feel of the grass under her bare feet. It happened, she said, so fast. Fortunately, everyone made it out alive.

When it comes to fire safety, most of us know the basics: pre-plan evacuation routes and during a fire, don’t open doors without first feeling for heat. But do your plans include your pet? An estimated 500,000 pets are adversely affected each year by house fires. For this reason, July 15th is designated as National Pet Fire Safety Day in order to raise awareness of pet safety during house fires and help you prepare so everyone is protected!

Safe Pet Evacuation

The first part of your pet fire safety plan should be to review your evacuation protocol, if you have one. And if not, today’s the day to make one!

1. Designate specific people for specific pets. Knowing in advance who grabs Oliver’s leash and who gets Fiona’s cat carrier streamlines the evacuation. Ideally the leashes and carriers should be kept in easily accessible locations.
2. Know your evacuation routes. A second story window is not going to be an accessible route for a large dog, so plan for exits pets can use whenever possible. It is important to remember that family members should never put themselves in danger for a pet, as difficult as that may be. First responders are trained to rescue our four-legged family members when it is unsafe for us to do so.
3. Display a window cling. Speaking of first responders, did you know you can put a vinyl adhesive sticker near your front door that alerts firefighters that there are pets in your home? Many fire stations make these available to the public, or you can easily shop for them online. Make sure they are updated regularly so first responders know how many pets are living in the home, should an emergency arise when you are away or incapacitated.
4. Keep collars on at all times. This is good practice in general, but in the specific case of house fires this makes it much easier for a firefighter to safely bring your pet out of the house. And, should they escape during an evacuation (not uncommon in times of extreme distress), he or she will have their contact information readily available on their tags.

Fire Prevention

Did you know dogs and cats are blamed for about 1,000 house fires every year? No, these are not deliberately destructive acts of arsonist-inclined companion animals. But still, yikes! Take the time to employ a few preventive strategies to ensure your dog or cat doesn’t inadvertently cause a flammable disaster.

1. Use flameless candles. Pets and open flames are a dangerous mix, particularly when you have a curious cat who likes to knock things off the coffee table. Flameless candles powered by LEDs are a pretty and safe alternative. If you really want to light that scented candle, make sure your pets are never left unattended in the same room.
2. Use knob covers on the stove. Did you know that stove tops are the number one way pets accidentally start fires? One minute they’re trying to get a look over the counter to see if there’s any food up there, the next thing you know you’re getting a call from the fire department while you’re in the middle of a work meeting. Knob covers- the same type used to prevent toddlers from starting the stove- work like a charm.
3. No glass on wooden decks. Many people like using glass bowls for pet dishes. There’s nothing wrong with that, but glass can act like a magnifying glass and set a wooden deck aflame. It might seem crazy, but it happens! Switch the bowls out for ceramic or plastic, and you’re all set.
4. Use a monitored security system or smart alarm. Traditional smoke alarms are a vital component of fire safety, but they’re only useful for people in the house at the time. Pets home alone have no way of alerting us if there’s a problem, but monitored security systems can react quickly before a fire gets out of hand no matter where you are in the world. Conversely, a good alternative to monitored systems are smart alarms. Today’s smoke and carbon monoxide detectors function not only as in-house alarm systems, they can also send text and push notifications wherever you’d like. Our system controls the thermostat, the smoke detector, security camera, and tells us if one of the kids left the front door open.

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We’ve come a long way since that chilly night decades ago where my mother watched her house disappear. With today’s safety precautions, there’s a lot you can do to make sure your family doesn’t endure a similar tragedy. Or if you do, that everyone makes it out quickly and safely. By taking steps now to minimize the dangers and to develop a well-defined plan, everyone in your home can have peace of mind and rest a little easier.

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

The Changing Needs of Senior Cats

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Cats are wonderful, mysterious creatures. And that's just two of the many reasons we love having them as a part of our family! On the other hand, cats are notorious for masking symptoms of disease, which can make determining their health needs increasingly challenging as they age. The signs are there, however, if we know what to look for. In what follows, we'll review the signs and reveal several things pet parents can do to optimize their cats' nutrition as they age.

When are Cats Considered Senior?

Generally speaking, cats can be considered senior if they're somewhere between 7-10 years of age. There is not one specific age, largely due to differences in quality of nutrition and the varying health states of individual cats. Unlike dogs, which have a wide variation in aging due to size differences between breeds, cat breeds all age at about the same rate.

Common signs of aging in cats include decreased jumping due to arthritis, weight changes (either gain or loss), changes in sleeping patterns, changes in drinking and/or urinating behavior, and cognitive changes such as seeming disoriented or lost. Although these symptoms are associated with age, they also reflect disease processes. If your cat exhibits any of the above symptoms, visit your veterinarian to make sure that you're not dealing with a dire medical condition that might require immediate treatment! Better safe than sorry.

Dogs vs Cats - More Differences

While older dogs have decreased energy needs, the same is not true for cats. The caloric needs of cats decrease until age 11, then start to increase again (which is why you see many obese 9 year olds but very few obese 16 year old cats). Cats are obligate carnivores so their nutritional needs are very different from omnivores such as dogs and people.

Protein & Fats

Senior cats may not digest protein and fat as efficiently as they age. Thus, the takeaway here is that not only the quantity, but the quality of protein and fats, matters. If protein intake remains too low, your cat may experience impaired immune function and muscle wasting. Digestibility is the key obtaining nutrients from foods, so it’s best to feed high-quality protein sources that are easily absorbed by a gut that may not be performing at optimal levels.

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Four Age-Associated Diseases You Need to Know

Diabetes is usually associated with obesity. High-protein, lower-carbohydrate diets can help blood sugar stabilize and reduce the need for insulin. Weight loss greatly improves the condition. Signs of diabetes include increased drinking and urination, sudden weight loss. Note that these symptoms are very similar to those of hyperthyroidism, another common disease in older cats.

Dental disease can make it harder for cats to crunch on kibble, leading to weight loss secondary to pain. Soft foods can help minimize oral pain. Signs of dental disease include reddened gums, bad breath and tartar.

Hyperthyroidism: a very common disease in elderly cats that is also associated with heart disease. Diet can help these cats maintain weight, but this is a disease that is best treated with medication, surgery, or radiation. Many cats do very well with treatment.

Renal disease: while kidney disease is often treated with protein restriction, this may not be the best bet for all cats. Too little protein can result in weight loss and muscle breakdown. Some cats benefit from phosphorous-restricted diets to reduce strain on the kidneys, but these decisions are best made in conjunction with your veterinarian. Signs of kidney disease include decreased appetite, weight loss, bad breath, vomiting, dehydration and increased urination.

Nutritional Challenges in Older Cats

As your cats age, they're at a higher risk of diminished appetite due to medical conditions, a loss of smell and taste due to age, all of which can lead to muscle wasting. Pet parents can help with warming food, soft food (canned is often more aromatic than kibble), or adding gravies or meat-based baby foods to improve smell and flavor.

Older cats are prone to dehydration, so getting enough water in them can be a challenge. Again, adding canned or soft foods may help, as does providing multiple water stations throughout the house.

Don't forget that premium supplements such as omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants can help address some of the signs and symptoms of aging.

So What's the Bottom Line?

As we've seen, cats are a mystery and sometimes a challenge. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to senior diets in cats, so each kitty should be evaluated on an individual basis to come up with a diet plan that will help them live their longest, happiest and healthiest lives!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Amazing Greyhounds: Fun Facts About the Fastest Dog

greyhounds-are-amazing-dogs

Greyhounds are one of the oldest purebred canines. Ancient paintings of these noble creatures grace the walls of tombs in the great Egyptian pyramids. In fact, Greyhounds are the only breed mentioned by name in the Bible!

Aside from being one of the fastest animals on the planet, they are so good-natured that they are commonly referred to as “Velcro dogs” by their people. 

Would you like to learn more about this elegant, ancient breed? Then look no further, because here’s a handy infographic that reveals some of the most amazing Greyhound facts. To view the full-size PDF, simply click on the image below!

PDF Document

What Does It Mean When Your Dog Bows to You?

Dog Playing

Pet parents often ask me, “Why does my dog bow?” The answer is more complicated than you might think, as it often is with our wonderfully complex canine companions. Dog bows serve as building blocks of dog communication and also have a physiological function in the stretching referred to as pandiculation. The reason behind each bow depends on when the dog engages in the behavior. Let’s talk about this unique form of stretching first.

Pandiculation is a brain-reflex-action pattern in which many animals engage. The word originates from the Latin ‘pandere’, which means "to spread out" or "stretch oneself". Next time your dog gets up from rest, watch what he does. Most often, he’ll put his front paws out and lengthen his back as he relaxes his belly. Then he may pandiculate in reverse, by contracting the anterior muscles into a flexed posture. This “wakes up” the muscular system, particularly the rear extensor muscles responsible for running. In a very real sense, this motion activates the connection between the brain and the muscles.

Stretching and yawning upon awakening is one healthy habit that we could relearn from our companion animals. As children, we instinctively do this, but many of us lose the habit.

Remember when you used to stretch? You'd wake up, gently tighten your arms and legs, feel a yawn coming on. Then, you’d reach your arms above your head, then reach down to one leg and then the other. You would first contract your muscles, then lengthen them, followed by complete relaxation. Try it some morning … you might be surprised at how good it’ll make you feel!

Dog bowing is most commonly expressed with what we refer to as the ‘play bow’. This common posture serves as a cornerstone of dog communication. Most often, it functions as an expression of ‘let's play!” Or, it can signal an apologetic tone, such as, "Oops, I didn't mean to bite so hard. I wasn't trying to hurt you. Let's keep playing!”

With a play bow, social hierarchy is not a factor. Dominant dogs can offer play bows to lower-ranked dogs and vice versa. When two dogs meet for the first time, they may initiate interaction with play bows as a way of making friends. Sometimes as part of the mating ritual, canines will initially assume the play-bow position to communicate amorous intent. Even if you don’t know exactly what your dog is attempting to communicate, the context of the behavior can help clue you in.

Want to try something fun? Try doing your own version of the play bow to your dog, and watch your pup go from serious to goofball in a heartbeat. Use a silly voice, plop down and invite your dog to play - you will likely be delighted at your dog’s response!

If dogs are not properly socialized, they may not know how to respond to another dog’s play-bow invitation. Rather than responding in-kind, they may feel threatened and growl fearfully. If you witness any fearful or aggressive reactions, I recommend working with a professional dog trainer.

If your dog invites you to play with a bow, accept the invitation! Chances are that you’ll boost her well-being, as well as yours, by simply engaging in purposeful play for only five minutes. It’s a great way to take a break from the day and begin a game of tug of war, tag or fetch.

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals.

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks

Why Does My Pet Eat Grass?

Tempted to Graze

It’s a question pet parents routinely ponder. While there are competing theories regarding why dogs and cats consume grass, a conclusive answer has yet to be supported by scientific study. Here’s a brief overview of the current speculation behind your companion animal’s impulse to graze …

1. It’s an ancestral thing. The prey of wild dogs and cats frequently have grasses in their intestinal system, so domesticated dogs and cats still retain a yearning for a spot of grass in their diet.

2. Our companion animals know of some nutritional value in grasses that we have yet to uncover (such as antioxidants).

3. They do it to provoke vomiting if they’ve eaten something that has upset their stomachs.

4. They are augmenting their keen sense of smell with taste to discover more about their environment.

5. They simply like the taste and texture of grass, so it’s just for the sake of satisfaction!

Although we may never know the exact reason why, we do know that this is one of the most commonly asked questions that veterinarians hear from their clients. If you notice excessive grass-eating with either your dog or cat, please consult your vet.

What Should I Feed My Senior Dog?

Aging Dog

A lot of folks don’t realize it, but as companion animals grow older, their nutritional needs often change. As their caretakers, we owe it to them to provide the best we can, based on their current nutritional requirements. The truth is, when it comes to senior dogs, appropriate, targeted nourishment can make a real difference in terms of longevity and long-term happiness. More...

How Do I Clean My Dog’s Ears?

Repeated head shaking. Foul-smelling, waxy build-up. Red, painfully inflamed ears. What do all these things have in common? All are symptoms of otitis externa, or what is commonly referred to as ear infections. If you have ever groaned inwardly and felt dismay the moment your dog starts shaking his head or rubbing his ears along the nearest available surface, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, too many pet parents are more than familiar with this recurring medical problem. Often, it is accompanied by an offensive odor and one can only imagine how overwhelming the smell is to the suffering pup!

Canine ear infections result from an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria in the ear canal, causing redness, irritation and a heavy accumulation of wax. Likely triggers of these maladies are skin reactions to inhaled allergens – like pollen, mold or dust mites – or food allergies and sensitivities. Be aware that both large ears and swimming predispose dogs to ear infections.

Humans tend to develop ear infections as a result of viral infections, typically in infancy or early youth. As youngsters, our Eustachian tubes are very small. Respiratory congestion can lead to blockage of these canals, resulting in otitis media (a middle ear infection). Because the infection is internal, they frequently require oral antibiotics. In contrast, pets usually develop ear infections as adults, and the infection is almost always localized in the external portion of the ear. In most cases, the application of prescription drops or ointments directly into the ear canal usually resolves the illness. If you suspect your companion animal may be suffering from an ear infection, please seek veterinarian assistance for diagnosis and treatment. If necessary, your vet may prescribe a topical medicine and advise routine cleaning.

In this episode of Pet Talk, Dr. Sarah reveals the steps to safe and effective ear cleaning to promote overall ear health.

Amazing Study on Fighting Canine Cancer with Mushrooms

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When I was a kid, I hated mushrooms. HATED them! My mother, determined to get me to partake, would chop them up into bits and mix them in with ground beef stirred into spaghetti sauce. When she went to put the dinner plates away, she’d find a tiny pile of minced up mushrooms on the edge of my plate. Yes, I was stubborn. But Mom had the right idea ... mushrooms are potent little powerhouses of nutrition.

In terms of how humans use mushrooms, they can be broadly divided into three categories: those we eat, those that might kill you, and those with medicinal properties. It's this last category that we're most interested in today. Civilizations going back thousands of years recognized the power of mushrooms in certain disease processes, and veterinarians are also looking for ways these compounds can help our canine companions suffering from cancer. 

Hemangiosarcoma is an aggressive cancer found almost exclusively in dogs, and one we see far too often in the clinic. One of the most insidious cancers due to its rapid growth, this sarcoma (connective tissue tumors) is found in the lining of blood vessels. While surgery and chemotherapy may delay the spread of the disease, it very rarely cures the cancer. Even with proactive treatment, fewer than 10% of dogs with this cancer are alive one year after the initial diagnosis. These therapies are invasive, expensive, and cause significant discomfort in and of themselves, so many pet parents do not pursue them.

A group of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine investigated the effects of Coriolus versicolor, often referred to as turkey tail. It’s a mushroom commonly used in Chinese medicine, where it's regarded to have anti-tumor properties. Rather than using the whole mushroom, they used an extract of the bioactive agent and administered it to dogs with hemangiosarcoma ... and the effects surprised everyone.

In this study, 15 dogs with naturally occurring hemangiosarcoma were given standardized extracts of the turkey tail mushroom rather than the traditional US medical treatment (surgery plus chemotherapy). To the amazement and delight of the researchers, all 15 dogs showed significant improvement: it took longer for the cancer to spread, and overall survival time was increased. Dogs treated with surgery have a median survival of 19-86 days. However, in this study, dogs receiving the highest dose of mushroom extract had a median survival of 199 days! No, it wasn’t a cure, but more than doubling the time you have left without the need for surgery or chemotherapy, that is definitely worth celebrating!

treating-canine-cancer

While researchers have a general idea of how mushroom extracts work, the exact mechanisms have yet to be identified. The active agent in turkey tail, PSP, boosts the body’s own cancer-fighting abilities by improving the function of the immune system. Compare this to a traditional chemotherapy treatment, where a toxic agent kills both cancer cells and normal cells. As you might imagine, treatment with the mushroom extract is much better tolerated in patients than chemotherapy. In fact, in the Pennsylvania study, researchers found no evidence of adverse side effects!

In Japan, turkey tail has been used extensively as a treatment for many types of cancers, including gastric, breast, lung and colorectal cancer. And it’s not just this mushroom! Over 100 species of mushroom are used as adjunct cancer treatments in Japan and China.

There’s a reason you haven’t heard of it as much in the States. Here, mushroom extracts are classified as a supplement and not a drug, thus they are not regulated or approved by the FDA. It is, however, still available and the research is popping up all over the place. It’s on the radar of established treatment institutes such as Memorial Sloan Kettering. Keep in mind that all of this is a brand new avenue of research with much left to learn about why mushrooms might have a positive effect. Bottom line, don't rush out to buy something you don't understand, but rather have a conversation with your doctor before trying anything new.

While the veterinary studies are few and far between, mushroom extracts are promising enough that many veterinary oncologists are already starting to incorporate them into their treatment regimens. Although they are considered fairly safe, it’s always best to consult with your veterinarian before starting any new supplement. In addition to making sure it won’t interact with other treatments your dog is receiving, your veterinarian will be able to recommend a brand she trusts to provide a reliable, active dose of the extract. Not all supplements are produced with the same quality control standards.

The bottom line is that this is definitely an avenue that warrants further investigation. In fact, the study was so successful, the manufacturer of the PSP supplement plans to study its effects on human cancers, too! 

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM


Sources

https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/patient/mushrooms-pdq

https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2012/384301/

https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/compound-derived-mushroom-lengthens-survival-time-dogs-cancer-penn-vet-study-finds

Fun Ways to Exercise with Your Pet

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Spring has a way of breathing energy back into your life. So why not take some of that kinetic potential and pour it into a fun activity? Perhaps even something you can do with your companion animal that could actually improve your health? 

Sure, you could go to the park and play fetch. Or play Frisbee. But if you're looking for something different but still a healthy activity, check out our fun ways to exercise with your pet below!

Pup Pilates

In the last 20 years, millions of Americans have tried pilates, the art of controlled movements. As an exercise regimen, pilates can help improve balance, tone muscles and bring practitioners a sense of peace. For a new twist, try doing exercises while holding your pets! While cradling your puppy or small dog (sorry Newfoundland moms and dads) while doing squats, lunges, lunges with side to side twists and bridge pulses with your little buddy on your belly. Of course, this is only something you should do if your dog (or cat) is calm enough. A wriggly pupper might throw off your sense of balance, so exercise some caution.

Agility Training

The great thing about agility training is that it not only provides exercise for both you and your dog, it can forge a closer connection between you, too! And it doesn't have to take place in a pre-approved or professional facility. As long as there's plenty of room to move around, you can set up your own little endurance challenges. If you have a small dog, a long hallway can afford sufficient space to set up an obstacle course (think plastic cups rather than pylons and wooden dowels on stacks of books as hurdles). The only limits are your imagination!

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Yoga with Your Cat

We know what you're going to say after reading this headline ... "yoga to be kitten me!" But, no, we're completely serious. Just like with Pup Pilates, only docile cats should join you for resistance training. After the customary warm-up, some compatible moves you can do with your cat are the prayer position, the Lion King pose (remember when Simba was held aloft for the admiration of the Animal Kingdom? it's based on that), the Crescent Warrior (or in this case, Purrier) and Vinyasa to downward dog (yes, we do admit the irony of doing that pose with your cat). Even if you don't hold your cat, their close proximity can add both peaceful and playful moments to your practice. Some people just enjoy the happy purring of their kitties while working through their yoga routine. Who knows, that constant sound might even help you reach a higher state of peace!

Low-Resistance Strength Training

If you're more old school and would prefer to rekindle a weight-training routine, but you can't lift the same amounts you used to, strength training with your pets is an option! Before you laugh, just recall that it did wonders for Milo of Croton, a 6th Century Greek wrestler who lifted a calf every day until it was a fully grown bull (or so they say). But we're not shooting for anything remotely that superhuman. Try push ups with your cat on your back, the kitty press, puppy squats, lateral raises (again, think Lion King) and cat curls. And, of course, in between reps, be sure to take time for scritches, boops and copious pets.

So Many More Options ...

If none of these sound appealing because you're looking for something a little more strenuous or you just want to get away from your house, check out our video tutorials on all sorts of outdoorsy activities and exercising you can do with your dog, including jogging, biking, swimming, hiking and camping.

Do you have a special activity you like to do with your companion animals? Share your exercise tips in the comments section below!