By Dawn Price, Registered Dietitian - Owner, The Natural Dog Newburyport, MA
As temperatures fall and daylight hours are shortened, our dog’s activity level may also be decreased compared to other times of the year. Exercise restrictions means lower caloric expenditure and less food to meet their dietary calorie needs. If the same dietary calorie intake is maintained during less active months, this will result in winter weight gain. Over time, this can lead to obesity possibly causing serious health concerns such as joint issues and chronic disease.
The shortening of daylight hours causes other changes in your dog’s metabolism. Shorter days signal to the dog brain that winter is coming. This sets off hormonal changes to slow metabolism and conserve calorie expenditure. Typically the domestic dog is not subject to the harshness of winter. A decreased metabolism will mean they gain weight if fed the same as other times of the year. Dogs protected from the harshness of winter need less food to compensate for this hormonal metabolic change. In some cases, dogs that are housed outside or spend a lot of time exercising outdoors during the winter months may require additional calories to maintain weight. In these dogs their metabolism will increase in order to burn more energy to keep warm.
How much food your dog requires depends on age, sex (if lactating), breed and exercise levels. As you can see the level of food consumption in winter to maintain the same weight can be greater or lesser depending on if you: reduce walks, leave the dog outside, or even if your house temperature is significantly lower. Monitoring a dog’s weight is vital to its health.
How To Identify Ideal Weight: Ribs are palpable, without excess fat covering. Waist observed behind ribs when viewed from above. Abdominal tucked up when viewed from side.
How to Help Your Dog Maintain A Healthy Weight
- Know How Much Food Your Dog Needs
- Choose the right nutrient mix
- Adjust Calories When Necessary
- keep active!
most kibble (dry food) contains a lot of calories in a small quantity of food. it is very easy to over feed kibble and pack the weight on quickly. not all kibble has the same amount of calories. most can range from 350-500 calories per cup. one type of food could have almost double the calories of another type of food. kibble can pack on the weight quickly by just overfeeding as little as ¼ cup extra per day. for this reason, it is important to know how many calories your dog requires to maintain a healthy weight and to measure each serving to avoid overfeeding calories. there are many resources to help you determine energy requirements. the recommended feeding guidelines often provide a very broad range of feeding recommendations per weight of dog. knowing what your dog needs based on weight and activity level will help in determining exactly how much to feed and avoid causing unwanted weight gain.
dogs have no nutritional requirement for carbohydrate. dogs are carnivores who can tolerate grain, but they should have 80% plus animal based food for optimum health. this includes muscle meat, offal and bones in the right proportion. not only is a meat based diet better in quality, digestibility and bioavailability of essential amino acids, it is also much less calorically dense than kibble. therefore, it is more difficult to pack on the weight as quickly. for this reason, a meat based diet is a good choice when considering healthy weight maintenance.
as daily or weekly routines vary, adjust dietary intake accordingly. your dog doesn’t need the same amount of calories on a day that was spent lounging on the couch as would be needed if spent outside all day playing in the snow. similarly, if there are days when activity is limited and you offer a meaty bone or special treat to keep your dog mentally stimulated, skip a meal or two during that day. a good tip is to offer the special treat during meal time and substitute it for the meal. their internal clock will tell them it’s time for dinner even though they don’t need the extra calories. this is a good way to avoid fussing and begging during meal time.
daily exercise provides incredible physical and mental benefits. a good dog is a tired dog!