It’s not uncommon for people to put on a few pounds over the holiday season. With the onset of colder temperatures, activity levels drop, and hibernation mode sets in. However, this is not limited to humans, as your pet may also experience winter weight gain.
Dogs who used to get a daily walk outside and cats accustomed to exploring the yard are now confined to the cozy indoors. Meanwhile, we are tempted to indulge our pets with tasty treats and special foods during our celebrations. Lower activity levels and extra holiday treats can put our pets at risk for taking in more calories than they can burn – resulting in weight gain. So, what can be done to help?
Prevention is Key
If your pet is already in good shape and active, make sure they continue to exercise throughout the winter months. Whether this means a game of indoor fetch, a romp through the snow in the backyard, or a good hike when the weather allows, try to be active as often as possible to allow your pet to work off excess calories.
If your pet isn’t getting near enough exercise time regardless of the changes you’ve made, consider cutting back on their calorie intake a bit to compensate for the lower level of activity. Gradually offering fewer treats and lowering the amount of kibble being fed at mealtimes should help offset the effects of lower activity levels during the winter. It’s also worth noting that the quality of treats being fed can significantly impact the health of your pet. Opt for low-calorie, superfood-type treats with wholesome, recognizable ingredients rather than treats high in calories that contain ingredients like sugar, molasses, and rice syrups.
A little math can also help ensure that you are not offering so many treats that you are essentially canceling out the reduction in calories made by decreasing your pet’s mealtime portions. All pet treats should have a calorie content listed on the back of the packaging. Similarly, this information should also be available near the Guaranteed Analysis on the back of your pet’s food packaging, usually in calories (or the equivalent Kcal) per cup format. If your pet’s kibble contains 400 calories per cup, for example, and you typically feed a cup per day but have now decreased this amount to ½ cup, you have created a calorie reduction of 200 calories. To see the benefits of your pet’s winter dietary changes, you will need to ensure that you are offering less (ideally much less) than 200 calories of treats per day; otherwise, your well-intended changes may cancel out. Therefore, finding quality, low-calorie treats for your pet is equally essential to long-term weight management.
Weight Loss Plans
If your pet is already overweight, a bit more change will likely be required. High-calorie treats should be eliminated, and meal portions should be cut back significantly to get your dog or cat on the path to healthy living. You may also consider transitioning your pet to a ‘Trim’ or ‘Weight Management’ recipe, which can help decrease the amount of fat in your pet’s diet. These recipes may also contain ingredients like L-Carnitine, an amino acid that can help your pet metabolize fat in their diet.
As with any major changes to your pet’s lifestyle, we recommend talking with your vet before beginning a new weight-loss plan. It is important to first confirm that your pet doesn’t have any underlying conditions that could be causing weight gain. Once cleared, your veterinarian can also help you determine an appropriate daily amount of food to provide your pet and help you structure and implement an achievable exercise regimen.
Monitoring your Pet
If you are concerned about your pet gaining weight during the winter, pay a visit to the veterinarian at the start of the season and have their weight recorded. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to look and feel for certain landmarks of an overweight or obese body condition, such as feeling for the ribs and spine. It could also be helpful to weigh your pet once a month to make sure the pounds aren’t creeping up and that they are maintaining (or losing) weight as needed. Maintaining a healthy weight in your pet will help ensure a longer, healthier life and even aid in joint health as your pet ages by keeping off excess pounds that could add strain to bones and joints.