No one, me included, wants to be reminded about the simplicity of weight management. To keep a steady weight, the number of calories consumed needs to equal the number of calories expended. To lose weight, the number of calories consumed needs to be slightly less than the number of calories expended.
Winter can be a great time to get out and enjoy the trails, but unfortunately our combination of extreme cold and deep snows during recent winters has kept our pets stuck inside. With daily walks and time spent wandering around the yard suspended until the snow melts, feeding habits need to change to reflect reduced activity.
For the sake of discussion we’ll take a 20 lb. dog with a typical lifestyle. For him to maintain a healthy 20 lb. body weight, he needs about 690 calories a day. This assumes a lifestyle that includes a couple of leisurely walks a day. The daily calories needed for this dog amount to slightly more than one McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese. Nine Bonz treats for small dogs also would fulfill his calorie requirements for the day.
Pet owners feed their animals people food and treats. It’s not all bad. We often use people food in the exam room to help distract nervous animals. We encourage owners to use food as training aids and often recommend dental treats to promote tooth care. It’s also important to recognize that many owners give treats as part of their special interaction with their pets.
But the calorie value of treats goes unrecognized by many owners, resulting in them providing their animals significantly more calories than needed. Small-breed dog owners are often the worst, stating that their dogs barely eat if their food is not doctored up. I know one owner who even regularly adds bratwursts and gravy.
I find myself reminding these owners that their dogs’ stomachs aren’t much larger than a walnut. For some reason, folks feel inclined to make sure their pets finish a plate of food as large as their own. This is an unhealthy thought process that makes our pets overweight. I encourage my clients to consult the recommendations on pet-food packaging when feeding their pets. The packaging suggests an amount of food based on the pet’s weight. This is the starting point.
The next step is to get a base-line weight and take an honest look at your pet. An animal that is at a healthy weight will have a waist that tucks in behind its ribs and then extends out near the hips. This gives the pet an hourglass appearance when you look at it from the top. You also should be able to just feel your pet’s ribs. If you have to push through fat to do this, your pet is overweight.
If you add treats and people food to your pet’s diet, you’ll need to adjust the intake of dry food. Also consider breaking pet treats into smaller pieces or even substituting healthy items such as baby carrots. It’s important to understand when our pets may be headed into a time of decreased activity and then to make feeding adjustments before we see weight gain. For most pets, winter is one of those times.