by Penny & Ed Cherubino
Poppy, our Westie, puts on a little weight every winter. Ed, who weighs her regularly and keeps a log, has noticed this seasonal increase for the past three years.
This winter, because she’s had more exercise than in past years, we’re scratching our heads to figure it out. We weigh her food and monitor her treats so we’d know if she were eating more. She’s not. Is there something in a dog’s nature that hangs on to calories in winter? Does her metabolism slow down?
The Thrifty Gene
After some research, we learned the answer to those questions is,”Yes!” Ken Tudor, DVM, on the Pet MD website wrote, “Shorter days signal to the dog brain that winter is coming. This sets off hormonal changes to slow metabolism and conserve calorie expenditure.” He says, “These changes also promote the deposition of fat. This phenomenon is a result of a genetic adaptation called the ‘thrifty gene.’ The thrifty gene prepares the dog for the harsh winter and allows for normal performance in harsh conditions.”
We have to offset the thrifty gene with more attention to the “food in/exercise out” balance. Just as it is with humans, dogs have to eat less or exercise more to keep from gaining weight.
To manage your dog’s weight, you have to know your dog’s weight. Most veterinary offices have scales that make quick work of weighing a dog and many will be happy to have you stop in for a quick check. If your dog is small, you can use a home scale to weigh yourself holding your pup and then subtract your weight to get the dog’s weight.
While weather extremes may cause us to cut back on the number and length of dog walks, we can try to compensate by putting in more miles in warmer, sunnier times. It’s the amount of exercise and food you have over the course of a week or a month that counts, not the daily dose.
Exercise can also take place inside. If there are stairs in your building and you and your dog are physically able to make use of them, a few trips up and down can be great exercise. Also, tossing toys and playing chase can give all family members a good workout.
If you give your dog traditional commercial treats, break them into smaller pieces. You may be surprised that your dog is as happy with a tiny treat as a big one. Try some lower calorie treats as well. Read the packages. Most of them contain calorie counts.
Consider low-calorie people-food as a treat category. Carrots, apples, green beans, or one of the crunchy dried versions of these products might make your dog as happy and could even take longer to enjoy than a dog biscuit.
And, remember, what’s good for the dog is good for the person on the other end of the leash. So if holiday feasts have added a few pounds to your torso, extra dogwalks, extra play sessions, and snacking on some of the same healthier snacks could help both of you trim down.
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