I recently heard on the radio that we are most likely at our lowest weight of the year on Thanksgiving weekend. Most of us tend to be more active in the summer, spend more time outdoors and less time snacking. Thanksgiving marks the beginning of shorter, colder days and the beginning of the holiday season in which many of the activities centre around food and drink.

As a veterinarian I also notice the tendency for our pets to gain weight over the winter season as well. When their humans stay indoors to avoid the cold and rain, often so do our pets. As we gather for the holiday feast, our pets are willing recipients of the tasty leftovers and dog and cats gain weight for the same reasons people do: too much food and not enough exercise.

An overweight pet, similar to us humans, is prone to a host of related problems, including diabetes, joint, ligament and tendon difficulties, mobility issues and breathing and heart challenges. Overweight cats can even develop skin problems from not being able to groom themselves properly. The overall impact on comfort and longevity can be significant.

But the truth is it’s not as difficult to trim down pets as it might be to fight your own battles with the bulge. What your pet eats depends on what we give them. Although we might groan at the thought of exercise, our pets are always up for a brisk walk, a game of fetch, or some play with a toy. They love to move, especially if we’re moving with them.

Healthy pets have some padding on them, but a little padding is plenty. Rub your hands over the ribs of your dog or cat. The skin should move easily back and forth, and you should be able to feel the ribs. Your pet should have a definable “waist” at the bottom of the rib cage. Take a look at your pet from the side and from above. If your pet has lost his waist line and his back end is as wide as his ribs, then he is overweight.

A slimmed down Mary after diet and exercise changes.

A slimmed down Mary after diet and exercise changes.

If you have determined your pet is overweight you need to develop a weight loss plan for your pet. The best place to start is with a trip to your veterinarian to make sure your pet does not have any conditions that are contributing to the weight gain or conditions that would make changes to his diet or exercise regime harmful to your pet. Your vet can also suggest a food and exercise plan specific to your pet.

Carve some time out of your schedule to walk your dog or play with your cat — three times a week, at least, daily if at all possible. Exercise has an added bonus: In addition to keeping your pet healthy, regular activity helps to correct many behavior problems caused by boredom.

Whatever regimen you and your veterinarian decide on, be determined to stick to it. Get out of the habit of expressing love for your pets by constantly offering treats, and use lower-fat treats such as carrots when you do hand over the goodies. And remember that exercise is good for you both, even in the rain.

It will be hard in the beginning, especially when not giving in to those begging eyes. But don’t give in. Your pet’s life will be healthier and happier if he is kept fit.

Final food for thought:

  1. If your pet is exercising less during the winter months, or for an extended period for any reason, decrease his daily food ration accordingly.
  2. As in people, some pets are just more prone to weight gain then others. You have to be more diligent about portion control with these guys.
  3. Spaying and neutering your pet decreasing their energy requirements by 20-40% due to changes in estrogen and testosterone levels so plan on cutting back on the calories after these procedures.
  4. Most dogs and cats when given as much food as they want (free fed) will tend to eat more than their caloric needs. Measure out a predetermined amount with each feed. There is also the added benefit that you will notice sooner if you pet’s appetite has decreased due to an illness.

Dr. Loretta Yuen

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