Winter weight gain isn't just a problem for us; it's also an issue for our pets. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help your dog or cat avoid adding any unnecessary waistline baggage. Let's take a look…
"If you’re not having a conversation with your vet about what you’re feeding your pet and how much you’re feeding him, you’re missing an important step to preventative health care,” says Dr. Ernie Ward, veterinarian and founder of the Association for Pet Obesity and Prevention. Your veterinarian will also record your pet's weight so that it can be gauged with any further gains (or losses).
“There’s an entire nation of pet owners who are loving their pets to death with too many calories and not enough exercise," says Dr. Joe Bartges, veterinary nutritionist and Small Animal Clinical Sciences department head at the University of Tennessee. Discuss with your veterinarian what sort of physical activities would be best for your pet's age and condition this winter. Often a jog or walk for 30 minutes a day, 3 or 4 times a week, is sufficient for dogs. Cats, meanwhile, can exercise by playing indoor games such as chasing a toy mouse or feather for 15-20 minutes every day.
Is it okay if your pet, like most of us, ends up going on an "exercise hibernation" period during the winter? It's not ideal, but the problem could be made much worse if his or her diet isn’t adjusted accordingly. "Less exercise means less calorie expenditure," says Dr. Ken Tudor. "Continuing to feed the same amount of food will result in winter weight gain that is unhealthy." Discuss with your veterinarian if you're not sure how many calories to cut back from your pet's diet.
Many veterinarians will recommend cutting out treats from a pet's diet entirely during the winter, especially if the pet is already overweight. However, if your vet doesn't think treats will negatively impact a weight loss plan there is a good reason. You may be able to use healthy treats as an effective way to entice your pet to exercise and burn excess pounds. Of course, treats should be used sparingly and for only a short period until your pet learns to exercise without a food-based reward.
Whether it's your partner, kids or roommate, make sure everyone at home knows the goal is to keep your pet at a healthy weight this winter. That way they not only can help participate in the exercise routine and games, but also avoid sneaking treats/table scraps to Fido or Fluffy.