By Sarah Lim, DVM
Winter is officially here! It’s the time of year that most of us tend to hunker down indoors and try to stay warm under a cozy blanket on the couch with our furry companions. While the instinct to “hibernate” is only natural, winter is typically a time of year that many pets gain weight. Being overweight can predispose your dog to medical problems such as joint pain and arthritis, blood pressure issues, and diabetes, so it is important to make sure your pup maintains a healthy weight.
How do you know if your dog is overweight? Here are a few things you can check to determine if your dog is in good body condition or if your pooch is getting a little too heavy.
- You should be able to see a noticeable waist (or your dog’s belly tucks in behind the ribs) when looking at your dog from above.
- When you look at your dog from the side, your dog’s belly tucks up in the area behind the ribs as it leads up to the back legs.
- Touch your dog’s ribs. You should feel a thin layer of fat and be able to feel the ribs without having to press too hard.
If your pup seems to have experienced some seasonal weight gain, there are some ways to help get him or her back into better body condition. These tips are also helpful for owners who want to be proactive and PREVENT seasonal weight gain.
Cut Down on Calories!
If your dog isn’t getting as much exercise during the winter, feeding the same amount of food as you would during other seasons will lead to weight gain. Even the usual amount of treats can lead to a surplus of calories that add up quickly and cause weight gain. In addition, it can be tempting to offer more treats, holiday goodies, or table scraps over the holiday season. Cut full-size treats into smaller pieces or substitute some of your dog’s regular treats with lower-calorie ones. Better yet, reward your dog’s good behavior with praise and play rather than just treats. Avoid table scraps, and make any guests or extended family aware that they shouldn’t be offering any to your pup. Some dogs may need their meal portions decreased by 20-25% to account for the significant decrease in their activity levels. If your dog is already overweight or seems to be gaining weight over the early winter months, make an appointment with your veterinarian to talk about your dog’s body condition and if there is a need to modify your dog’s portions or diet for the winter months.
Keep Your Dog Active – Indoors
Colder temperatures and inclement weather can mean the conditions outdoors are too harsh for long walks or play time at the dog park. There are some ways to adjust your dog’s exercise regimen during the winter. Shorter, more frequent walks could replace the one or two longer ones you might take in warmer weather. Coats and/or booties can help keep your dog warm, especially if you have a smaller dog or a dog with shorter fur. Indoor activities could take the place of outdoor play times. Fetch in an open area or hallway is a fun option, as long as you take care to avoid furniture, stairs, or anything fragile. Indoor agility classes could provide a great physically and mentally stimulating activity for your dog. If doggy day care is not an option, you could schedule an indoor playdate with one of your dog’s furry friends.
Make Your Dog Use His or Her Brain
Physical activity isn’t the only way to help beat winter boredom. Interactive or puzzle toys are a fun way to keep your dog busy. You could put your dog’s entire meal into a puzzle bowl or interactive toy, rather than their usual bowl. Treats could be used for those dogs who are not as motivated to work for their usual kibble, though you will want to be careful not to give too many. You can use smaller pieces or decrease their other feeding portions if there is a day when your dog got a few too many treats.
Track Your Dog’s Weight
Weighing your dog is a great way to know for sure if Fido is packing on the pounds. Smaller dogs could be weighed at home and larger dogs could be brought to the vet for periodic weigh-ins (bonus – this is a great way for your dog to have a “happy” vet visit!). Before and after pictures, or pictures along the way, can be helpful for comparison since it can be hard to visually detect gradual weight gain.
In general, too many calories and not enough exercise can lead to weight gain in your dog. However, weight gain can also be caused by medical conditions and certain endocrine diseases. If you are adhering to a diet plan as discussed with your veterinarian and your dog seems to be gaining weight despite that, make an appointment to discuss testing that may help rule out an underlying medical issue.
Hopefully these tips will help keep your pup at a healthy weight over the winter months!