Helping your pet shed winter weight

Helping your pet shed winter weight
(File Photo)

By Kim Gilliam

Pets can suffer from winter weight gain just like people. The cold weather and shorter days result in reduced exercise, plus owners who feel guilty about spending less quality time with their pet often dole out treats to show their affection, packing on the pounds. How can you tell if your pet is overweight? You should be able to see a defined waistline – if not, it’s time to make a change involving eating less and exercising more. Here are some tips:

1) Measure Your Pet’s Progress. Weigh your pet and take some pictures to set a baseline. Be sure to talk with your vet if you are unsure of the ideal weight for your pet. Each week weigh them and share their progress with your friends on social media – having others follow along with your success can be a great motivator!

2) Count Calories. Use your pet’s ideal weight to estimate the number of calories they should have each day. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association has published Calorie Needs tables for both dogs and cats at WSAVA. org to be used for average healthy adults, just remember that variations in metabolic rate can alter this figure by as much as 20 percent so adjust as needed. You will then need to measure your pet’s daily food and treats accordingly – remember that up to 10 percent of your pet’s daily caloric intake could be from treats, so don’t forget to include these.

3) Dietary Changes. Just reducing the amount of your pet’s current food may not be what’s best. It’s better to feed a regulated amount of a specially formulated weight-loss food to ensure they are getting all the proper nutrition. These foods tend to be high protein, low carbohydrate, and low fat. You can also opt to add fiber by mixing in green beans or pumpkin to trick their stomach into thinking it is full.

4) Treat With Care. Try switching to healthy treats such as carrots, green beans, sliced apples or bananas – frozen fruits and vegetables placed inside a treat dispenser will last longer. Do you have a training class or practice session where you will need treats to keep your dog’s attention? Serve them half their next meal and use the remaining kibble as treats. For a high value treat to get their focused attention, stay away from fatty options like cheese and instead use turkey breast. Remember to make every treat count, no freebies just for being cute, and get your whole family onboard so you don’t have any diet saboteurs. And praise from you goes a long way, you don’t always need a treat to accompany it.

5) Up the Exercise. While increased exercise may not burn a lot of calories for your pet, it helps increase their metabolism and tire them out so they aren’t as focused on eating. For dogs, 20 to 30-minutes of brisk walking daily also helps boost immune function, improve cardiovascular health and reduce behavioral problems. For cats, try playing with a laser pointer, remote-controlled toy or ball of paper for 15 minutes each day.

An estimated 54 percent of dogs and 59 percent of cats are overweight or obese nationwide. Studies show that pets at their ideal weight can live up to 2 years longer than those that are overweight. Plus their quality of life is much improved, with reduced joint aches and pains and illness, so it is worth the effort to shed the excess pounds. They just need your help to do it.

The writer co-owns Frolick Dogs, an indoor dog gym in Alexandria, with her husband, Kevin Gilliam.