What is your winter workout like?

Published 4:44 pm Monday, October 10, 2011

By DR. FRED SELF / Veterinarian

Our pets tend to put on weight during the winter. From a survival point of view, increased weight gain for the winter is a great thing. It allows for the possibility of missing meals in the part of the year when food can be scarce.

However, unless you are living outside with little or no protection from the elements, winter weight gain can be bad for your health. Even four to six months of increased weight can cause joint damage and increased stress on the heart, liver and kidneys.

There are two options to control winter weight gain. First is nutrition control. Pets that are inside or provided with warm outdoor housing should also be kept eating an appropriate quantity of food. Put another way, just because it is cold outside does not mean it is a good idea to double your pet’s food supply.

Second, it may be necessary to supplement your pet’s activity level by encouraging exercise. This second option may also help owners with their winter weight.

Where nutrition is concerned, continue feeding the same quantity of food at each feeding. If necessary, you can change to a light food during the winter months. It should not be necessary to use a weight-loss food, especially if exercise is encouraged. Weighing your pets regularly will help you know if their food intake needs to be adjusted.

Exercising your pets can be tricky. Not only can it be hard to motivate them, but it can be hard to motivate yourself to motivate them. Getting up early or walking in the dark, especially as the temperature drops, can be a tough habit to start and keep up.

To make it easier, try training your dog to walk on a treadmill if you have one. Start off walking on the treadmill at a slow pace with your dog. Once they get into the routine, you can carefully step off.

Cats can be harder to motivate. For cats, it is a matter of just getting them up and moving. Try cat trees or other structures that allow them to climb up and down. Another trick for cats is to hide their food around the house. By putting their food in multiple locations around the house each day, they have to walk around trying to find it. Having to hunt for their food is good exercise.

Unless you have pets that hibernate for the winter, their weight should remain constant.

Dr. Fred Self is a veterinarian at Shelbiana Animal Clinic in Columbiana, along with Dr. Charles Thornburg. You can reach them at 669-7717.