This series is brought to you by our partner Nulo
However long you’ve been competing in obstacle course races, chances are you know what you need to perform at your peak—that’s the Spartan way, after all. But do you understand what your dog or cat needs to rule the world alongside you? The truth is, to stay healthy and strong (read: keep up with you!), your animal companion also requires extra care and consideration when it comes to nutrition and exercise. Making thoughtful choices about what he eats, how much he moves and more can make a major impact.
We asked competitive triathlete and veterinarian Dr. Abby Huggins Mowinski of Intown Animal Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia to share how you can help your pet feel his absolute best. Follow these six tips to keep your companion feeling as strong, healthy and happy as event day makes you.
1. Cut (Way) Down on the Carbs
It sounds obvious, but do you really know your pet’s dietary needs? “While no one nutritious diet will work for all dogs or all cats, typically, pets need way less carbohydrates than their owners are giving them,” Dr. Huggins says.
This is especially true for cats. “Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they’re designed to break down meat and protein, but not carbs,” she says. Problem is, most cat food is formulated with carbohydrate-based ingredients. Those crunchy pellets? “A cat’s body turns them into fat and adipose tissue.” The result? Fat cats.
This is less of an issue with dogs—omnivores who have, for generations, received scraps from humans and as a result are better able to better digest a wider range of nutrients. Still, dogs are eating more of certain macronutrients than they likely need, Dr. Huggins says.
Cat or dog, “I recommend a protein-forward, lower carbohydrate diet,” Dr. Huggins says. This prevents your animal from having sugar-spikes and allows her to digest her food the way her body was designed.
So, does this mean you need to put your pet on an If It Fits Your Macros diet? Not exactly, but you do want to give pet-food labels a closer look before you purchase. Nulo, for instance, specializes in protein-rich, nutrient-dense kibble, purees and treats for felines and canines. “Nulo has the highest percentage of protein of any pet food on the market, so it’s my go-to for any pet that doesn’t have kidney failure—which would keep them from being able to properly digest protein.” You can learn more about Nulo here.
2. Play Some Tricks With Treats
In addition to feeding our pets the wrong food, we’re also feeding them (way) too much of it. According to the Association For Pet Obesity and Prevention, 60 percent of cats and 56 percent of dogs in the United States are obese. That’s more than half. Yikes.
“I wish pet owners would understand that if their pet is overweight, it’s on them,” says Dr, Huggins. “Our pets aren’t going into the freezer and getting ice cream at night,” she says. (Garfield exempted, of course.)
While sticking to your vet’s recommendation for how much to serve your pet at mealtime is a good place to start, Dr. Huggins says typically the issue is how much and often we’re rewarding with treats for good behavior between meals. “Pets don’t need a treat any larger than the size of a blueberry, accompanied by some verbal or physical appreciation,” she says.
One trick to trimming the treats? If your pet gets 3 cups of kibble a day, Dr. Huggins suggests saving half a cup of their regular food in a ziploc bag and offering that a reward throughout the day. “Really! Your pet doesn’t care what it tastes like!”
3. Get Outside More Often
In addition to monitoring calories in, keeping your dog or cat trim also requires keeping a watch on calories out—AKA exercise. How much movement a pet needs depends on the breed. But even the least active breeds need 30 to 45 minutes of exercise or play per day, according to Dr. Huggins.
It’s not only about keeping Scout slim. “The benefits of taking your dog outside to exercise supercede just the calorie burning,” she says. Getting into the great wide open is also good for your animal’s brain and mood. In fact, it can often ease anxiety—a problem Dr. Huggins frequently sees clients trying to medicate. “Typically, the root of the problem is that the pet isn’t getting enough mental stimulation and physical activity,” she explains. In other words, a morning walk with your companion provides physical, emotional, and mental perks. Get moving together before you medicate!
4. Consider A Pet Probiotic
Thanks to a growing body of research linking gut health with all sorts of benefits, from maintaining your weight to clearing your skin, docs have been recommending probiotics and probiotic-rich foods as part of a healthy lifestyle for humans for years. And, guess what? “Even pets have a gut microbiome,” according to Dr. Huggins. That’s why she recommends probiotics for animals, too. “They’re especially great for pets with GI issues like diarrhea, allergic skin disease, and those who are coming off of antibiotics, which can upset the digestive tract,” she says.
Should we all start feeding our pets probiotic drinks and sauerkraut? Not exactly. “Again, I suggest feeding your pet Nulo, which already has a Patented GanedenBC³⁰ probiotic in their kibble formula,” says Dr. Huggins. Way easier (and healthier) than the old hide-the-pill-in-ice-cream trick.
5. Refill That Water Bowl
Like humans, pets have thirst cues that enable them to drink as much what as they need—so, you don't have to do any wacky water-bowl math to make sure your pets are properly hydrated.
But, Dr. Huggins says, “It is on pet owners to make water available to them.” That means refilling your pet’s water bowl when it’s empty, and even leaving two bowls out if you’re going to be gone all day. “You don’t have to worry about your pet over-hydrating himself,” she says.
If you have a dog, that also means bringing extra water when you go hiking or running together (and offering it often) and investing in one of those collapsible water bowls. She can’t tell you she’s thirsty, so she depends on you!
6. Be Vigilant About Vet Visits
Sure, when your dog or cat is feeling off, it’s second nature to make an appointment with the doc. But well visits are just as vital. “I can’t overemphasize the importance of taking your pet to the vet for routine visits and also making sure your pet is up-to-date on their vaccines,” says Dr. Huggins. “If people just stayed on top of those things, their animals will likely live longer, healthier, safer lives. Basically, preventive medicine is the best medicine.”
Although how often your pet is due to see the vet will depend on factors like his age, breed and overall health, Dr. Huggins says a good rule of thumb is to pay a visit five to six times in his first year, every six months during the bulk of his adult life, and up to four times annually when your companion starts showing signs of aging. If you’re following these strategies, that’s likely to be a long way off!