Winter weight gain can be as much of a problem for our pets as it is for us. After all, our dogs depend on us to get them outside for walks and playtime, and if we live where winter can be bitter cold and snowy, staying indoors where it’s cozy and warm — while indulging in comfort food — is often too hard to resist.
Now, however, the arrival of sunny spring skies and warmer weather has us packing away the wool sweaters and down coats. It also has some of us making plans to lose weight — for ourselves and for our pets.
What can you do to help your pet shed winter weight? We have some suggestions.
- Weigh your pet and assess their body condition.
You need to know your pet’s starting point, so it’s a good idea to weigh your pet and preferably determine your pet’s body condition score. If you’re not sure that your pet is overweight or if you feel your BFF (best furry friend) has gained a lot of weight over the winter, now’s a good time to discuss weight management with your veterinarian. Some diseases of dogs and cats are associated with weight gain and your veterinarian can determine if your pet has an underlying health problem.
- Evaluate the amount of food and treats your pet is eating. Make adjustments and use portion-controlled feeding if you’re not already.
Has your pet been eating more food during the winter months? Or snacking on more treats than they might otherwise? Have you been feeding your pet using the free-choice method instead of providing portion-controlled meals?
Be sure to measure your pet’s food, if that’s something you haven’t been doing during the winter months. Just like for us (unfortunately), the amount of food eaten must be controlled for weight maintenance or loss to happen. If you’re not sure how much you should be feeding your cat or dog, compare the amount they are currently eating with the recommended amount on your pet food’s label. Better yet, have your veterinarian or veterinary technician help you determine how many calories your pet should be consuming and how much of your pet’s current diet you should be feeding.
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You may also want to consider switching your pet’s food to one of the many weight management formulas that are available such as Diamond Naturals Light Adult Dog Lamb Meal & Rice Formula, Diamond Naturals Indoor Cat Chicken Meal & Rice Formula, Diamond CARE Weight Management Formula for Adult Dogs and Diamond CARE Weight Management Formula for Adult Cats. These diets are designed to provide all the essential nutrients that our pets need while reducing the number of calories eaten. They also include ingredients such as L-Carnitine to help metabolize fat, increased fiber to help pets feel full and less fat for fewer calories.
If your pet has been getting a significant number of calories from treats, those should be limited, if not eliminated altogether. But if treating your pet is important, you can still do it — just limit the calories from treats to no more than 10 percent of your pet’s daily calories. With just 38 to 40 calories per biscuit, Diamond Naturals Adult Dog Biscuits or fresh veggies such as broccoli and green beans are good alternatives to higher-calorie treats.
- Boost activity to help your overweight pet lose weight.
The most direct approach to weight loss — for our pets as well as us — is no secret. Fewer calories in and more calories out pushes the body to use fat reserves for energy.
With the arrival of spring, many of us — including our dogs (and some cats) — want to spend more time outdoors. That makes increasing our activity easier, especially when you consider one of the best forms of activity to help weight loss is walking. Because the best type and amount of exercise for our pets will vary with age, breed (dogs), current fitness level and general health, be sure to talk with your veterinarian about what’s best for your pet.
Of course, we can’t forget about increasing kitty’s activity either if they are overweight. Playing with your cat, or interactive play, is a great way to get them moving every day. Activities that let your kitty express their natural instincts and behaviors, like hunting and climbing, also help keep their mind alert and active.
Here are some additional suggestions for getting your pet to move more:
- Move the food bowl upstairs or downstairs, changing its location frequently so your dog or cat has to walk to get to their food.
- Use play sessions and walks as rewards for your dog’s good behavior instead of treats.
- Use balls, toys or squeaky toys to encourage games of fetch or chase.
- Small, motorized, remote-controlled mice, feather toys and laser pointers are favorite options to get your feline friend stalking and pouncing.
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- Monitor, track changes and activities, and make adjustments as needed.
Tracking your pet’s activity and playtime along with weigh-ins once every two weeks can help you see progress, provide accountability and determine what’s working. Progress tracking can also suggest times when adjustments in the weight management program are needed.
Anyone who has ever struggled with weight loss knows it takes commitment and a change in mindset. The same is true with our weight management efforts for our pets. But as challenging as it may seem, the reality is that losing weight and improving fitness can add more years to our dogs’ and cats’ lives and more life to those extra years.