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Pet fun in the Myrtle Beach area

The winter months are a time when we're all much more comfortable inside where it's warm. The truth is our dogs feel the same way, even under all that fur.

Yet we and our dogs face a similar issue: staying active during these colder months. For us, the solutions include the treadmill and the Bowflex, but what do we do about our canine companions? How do we keep them from adding those pounds we fear so much ourselves?

Jeanette and Will Shiflet of Myrtle Beach have a simple solution: Where they go, their dog Roxie goes, as long as it's within reason.

"We take her [Roxie] with us just about anywhere we can take her," said Jeanette Shiflet, 58. Roxie takes routine trips to Barc Parc in The Market Common, as well as to the beach. Even routine car rides can become a fun activity for dogs like Roxie - if the weather is right.

They were also quick to wave away concerns pet owners might have about bringing their young pups around older or bigger dogs at the parks.

"Dogs, when they're around other dogs, they seem to work it out," said Will Shiflet, 63.

Brent McCain, 20, agrees.

"I take Titan to my friends' houses all the time. He runs around for hours with the other dogs," said McCain. "You can't underestimate how much energy dogs put out when they're just moving all over the place."

McCain said he has to take advantage of those bonus exercise times for Titan - especially in the cold winter months - because of the amount of time he spends at school and work.

Diet impacts the fitness of animals during the winter months as much as exercise does.

"If they're not exercising as much, they don't need as many calories," said Dana Hindman, 27, a veterinarian at Kind Care Animal Hospital, which is located in Little River.

That doesn't mean there aren't ways to keep them active while staying indoors, however.

"Encouraging them to go up and down the stairs inside is a good way to keep them moving if they're healthy enough for it. Smaller dogs can play fetch in the hallway, too," Hindman said.

Horse health a priority, too

Of course, if your interests are a bit more equestrian in nature, the rules are still basically the same. Making sure horses get their exercise is important, or they'll put on the pounds, just like any other animal would.

"The main thing is watching how much they're fed," said Hindman, who also suggested horse owners do research on a body condition score, something considered important for most horses.

A body condition score ranges from one to nine. A horse with a BCS of one is gaunt and sickly, while a horse with a BCS of nine has inappropriately distributed levels of fat, resulting in weight issues that can damage bones and joints.

The ideal BCS for a horse varies depending on breed, gender and age, but if your horse is between 4 and 6, it's most likely healthy.

There are easy and fun ways to get your equestrian friend moving, even when it's chilly out, like taking a horseback ride along the beach or along trails at places like Hobcaw Barony near Georgetown.

Horseback Riding of Myrtle Beach offers beach rides year-round, and from Sept. 15-March 15, you can ride at Garden City Beach, Litchfield Beach or Myrtle Beach for $85 for an hour-and-a-half jaunt.

At Hobcaw Barony, you can take your horse and explore the trails of the 17,500-acre preserve for an all-day adventure. The cost is $20 per person, and registration forms must be completed 10 days before the event date. Call 546-4623 to register. Event dates are:

Friday and Saturday | 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

Feb. 5 and Feb. 12 | 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

March 5 | 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

March 19 | a full-moon trail ride for $30; time TBA

March 26 | Lowcountry ride and fish fry for $40; time TBA

Don't forget ferrets, exotics

Even exotic pets like ferrets need to keep their blood pumping. We've all seen them walking the beach during the summer with their owners in tow, having a blast. But can you really have fun with your ferret in the winter?

As it turns out, most ferrets actually enjoy playing in the snow, but only for a few minutes. Leaving them outside for too long can cause them to catch a cold that, if left untreated, can result in more serious issues.

So while it's fine to play with your ferret outside when it's cold, be careful not to push the boundaries for these furry companions.

"Just because they don't require daily walks does not make them an 'easy' pet," cautioned Hindman.

And you can always wrap some extra insulation around your pets when they go outside if it's especially cold. Retailers like PetSmart have sweaters and jackets for dogs of all sizes to help keep them protected against the chilly weather.

Ultimately, the thing owners and caretakers seem to agree on is keeping animals active year-round.

It doesn't matter if the manner of exercise is innovative or original, so long as the dog, cat or whatever pet you're inclined to keep is staying healthy and fit.

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