By Dr. Laura Hady
I love how the cooler fall weather allows for hikes with my dogs and playtime with my cats who enjoy chasing leaves as I rake them into piles. Despite the exercise, fall can mark the beginning of weight gain for both humans and our pets as we sit more watching sports, prepare more treats, and enjoy multi-course meals with our families. Given that it is easier to gain weight than to lose weight, I have compiled some tips to avoid having to make weight loss a New Year’s resolution for your pets.
- Measure proper food amounts. Your pet’s resting calorie requirements can be calculated by inserting your animal’s weight in pounds into a simple math formula.
Divide your pet’s weight (50 pounds, for example) by 2.2. Multiply that number by 30 and then add 70. It would look like this: 50/2.2 x 30 +70 = 752 calories, which is roughly two cups per day of a 375-calorie-per-cup dog food. If your pet is more active and therefore could healthfully take in more calories daily, you can multiply the result of the equation by 1.6 – in this case, 752 x 1.6. A more active dog could ingest about 1,200 calories by that calculation. Talk to your veterinarian if the recommended feeding amount stated on the back of the food bag is not the same as the above calculation or if your pet has special dietary requirements.
- Don’t over treat. Ideally, 85 percent of daily calorie requirements should be ingested via pet food, with the other 15 percent administered as treats. A large dog biscuit has about 110 calories, which is about the same as one small cube of cheese. The smaller the dog, the faster the treat calories add up in a day. Lower calorie treats might include real meat, such as chicken breasts or a wheat product called Charlie Bear’s that have three calories per piece.
- Know your goals. Weight loss requires a 20 percent to 25 percent reduction in the total calories ingested per day over a period of about a month. To start, make sure you are using a standard measuring cup, not the big plastic soda cup from the convenience store. Reduce the amount of dry kibble, add water to the bowl, and top the contents off with 1-2 teaspoons of lean meat or vegetables. In larger breed dogs, about a pound of weight loss per week is a good goal, while in medium to small breeds, about one-quarter to one-half of a pound per week is optimal. You’ll know when your pet has reached an ideal fitness level when you can feel the pet’s ribs without seeing them and the animal has a defined waistline. Many vet offices will allow free weekly or monthly weight checks for their dog and cat patients.
- Create exercise time. If I am watching a football game, I try to do a movement exercise with my pet at every commercial break or 10 minutes of every hour. A favorite game in my living room is tag: I run with the toy, and my animals chase me around the room.
- Get creative. If I know that I will be preparing snacks or a big meal for family and friends, I will hold back part of my pet’s kibble and offer that as a snack for good behavior rather than sneaking them scraps. I also like to buy entertaining holiday presents for my pets, such as puzzle toys that force them to work a little to figure out how to access the treats inside. Instructions for how to make some of your own treat puzzles can be found online; one easy homemade puzzle can be made by putting a few kibbles inside an empty toilet paper roll, then closing the ends with scraps of paper.
I confess that I allow my dogs a Thanksgiving meal of turkey without the skin, sweet potatoes, and green beans in their own room, away from guests. I do not add salt or butter to their meal. Finally, I give them a brushing and massage before we settle down for our holiday nap. Most important of all is to appreciate the valuable time you spend with friends, family, and your pets. Keeping everyone fit to foster more holidays together is an added gift.