By: Sarah A. Neikam, Operations Manager

How’s your summer swimsuit body coming along? Feeling fit? Looking toned? Not really? Don’t worry. The Summer Olympics are underway right now in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and if anything or anyone can make the average person feel… inadequate, it’s Olympic athletes.

Most of these super humans have trained and devoted their entire lives to being the absolute best at their chosen sport. They are living, breathing, sweating examples of commitment and dedication.

Watching these amazing athletes can be quite intimidating, but it can also be inspiring. Sure, most of us, no matter how hard we try, will never match their level of physical fitness and strength, but we can use their example as motivation to do better. And not just for ourselves, but for our pets, too.

Where is your pet right now? Stretched out on the carpet? Lounging on the sofa? Maybe even snuggled in your bed taking advantage of your absence? Whatever they’re doing, they’re probably not getting the exercise they need.

Fitness is an important part of your pet’s overall health, just like it is for yours. And don’t think that just putting your dog in your fenced yard to exercise himself is enough. He’ll check the perimeter, sniff around a bit, maybe chase his tail and a toy or two, but then he’s just going to sit there or find a shady spot and take a nap. You need to play coach to get him into shape. In other words, take a hike!

According to our Director of Training and Enrichment, Ann Kinney, “In addition to basic care… walking your dog is perhaps the most loving thing you can do for your furry friend. Walking with your dog and exploring the environment together is an integral component to building a strong human-canine relationship.”

As far as how much time you should devote to walking with your dog, Ann recommends committing to at least two thirty minute walks per day to help your dog be happier, calmer, more mentally engaged and more physically fit.

If walking your dog is a challenge due to pulling or behavior issues, give our highly qualified and experienced trainer, Trish Wamsat a call or sign up for one of her affordable, fun, and very effective classes. She even has a specific class to address these very issues: Leash Monsters. You can reach Trish at 803-574-DOGS (3647) or [email protected].

Cats on the other hand, are another challenge. Most pet cats live exclusively indoors and spend an average of 16 hours sleeping. Though quite domesticated, house cats still possess a predator’s physiology, which means they’re hardwired to conserve energy during the day so they can give chase and hunt at night. Every cat owner is familiar with being suddenly awoken in the middle of the night by the loud noise of something falling off of a shelf or a feline trampling over you in bed. “What was that?! Oh, cats.”

While some cats are happy to be hitched to the end of a leash and taken for a neighborhood stroll, (our Luna, right, loves it, but she’s not exactly easy to walk) most cats want nothing to do with a leash, so you’ll have to provide some other enticing opportunities for exercise.

Take a peek in any pet supply store and you’ll find plenty of options in the cat toy department. Balls, stuffed mice, towers, tunnels and more. Cats will play with anything new for a while, but then usually get bored and find another spot to nap. Your best bet to keep them active is an interactive toy.

Wand or feather toys are inexpensive, easy, and a great way to spend some bonding playtime with your cat. Laser lights can provide serious stimulation, just be careful not to go overboard. Our cats are usually worn out and in need of a break after about five minutes chasing the uncatchable red spot.

Enrichment toys that provide your cat with mental as well as physical exercise are a great idea, too. Food puzzles and treat dispensers can occupy your cat’s attention while you’re away and it’s fun to watch them problem-solve and see how quickly they can learn.

I hope you’ll give some of these ideas a try with your pet. Olympic athletes we may not be, but we can have a great time “training” together and living healthier, more active lives with our pets.

And if you need some time to cool off after all that exercise, bring your dog to the SPCA Dog Wash this Saturday, August 9th from 10am until 2pm! Washes start at just $20, nail trims and ear cleanings available too, and proceeds help us care for the many homeless pets in our care.

Sarah Neikam is the Communications & Marketing Director for the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. She is an Aiken native and has been with the SPCA since 2012. Sarah lives in Graniteville with her husband, Tom, mother, Cheryl and three adopted cats: Bastian, Luna and Grady.

The SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare is a private, nonprofit, no kill animal shelter in Aiken, SC.  The SPCA also operates a local Thrift Store (“Where Shopping Saves Lives”),  a public, affordable Veterinary Care Center & a Dog Park.  It is our mission to improve the lives of companion animals by rehoming abused, abandoned, and neglected pets while fighting for their well-being through vigorous legislative efforts, humane education, and by offering affordable veterinary care for all.