And as I sit here, drinking spiced apple cider, expending only the energy to type, I think that all of us are doing much the same thing.  We aren’t moving and we ARE eating and drinking. I reflect on the myriad of pudgy pets that I see each week.   My clients walk into the exam room muttering that they know she has gained a few pounds. I hear you! I know what winter does to us all and I know that exercise becomes more of a challenge.  The days are short and the temperatures discouraging at best. But here is hope for your exercised deprived pets! A pet’s weight is about BALANCE.  It is worth the trouble. Purina’s Life Span Study showed that normal weight dogs lived an extra 1.8 years over their overweight counterparts.

Although exercise is a part of the healthy formula, it is not the only part. Think of your pet’s weight as balancing act between input and output. When she takes in more, she has to burn off more.  Summertime is great for this because her output is higher and you are so busy that her input is probably less too, since she is never eating from sheer boredom.  So how do you know how much she really needs? The easiest way is ask your veterinarian to enter your pet’s details into a computer program designed to calculate for you what her calorie guidelines would be.  This is the easiest way for me also. I use my Calorie Guide program for my own pets regularly. However, should your vet not have a program like this one, together you can figure out a range that can at least guide you, so certainly ask.

Even before you talk to your vet, check out the feeding guide on the back of your pet’s food.  Remember that these are very general guidelines and do not take into account any of the specifics for your pet. If you know that your pet is not getting enough exercise, round down the recommended amount. Again careful observation is critical.  Always measure the food, so you know what your pet is really getting and don’t forget to account for treats!

Specified mealtimes are also important.  If you think about your pet as a hunter or pack member, food would not be available all the time, like it is for grazing animals. Food would be available only when the individual expended energy in the pursuit and capture of it and even then it might have to be divided amongst pack members.  Our domestic pets are not wired for the sedentary life of ease that we afford them. Give your pet the amount of food that you have painstakingly calculated and allow 5-10 minutes for the meal. At the end of that time, take the bowl away, preventing over-eating and boredom eating throughout the day. A side benefit of this plan is that when the next mealtime arrives, your pet is ready to eat, so he is more willing to consume that healthy diet you have chosen and also to take any medications that you may need to hide in his food.

Don’t forget since your pet doesn’t have to hunt, kill or search for his food, his mind is not exercising either.  I love “enrichment toys”.  These clever devices allow you to put (the measured amount of) food into the puzzle and your pet has to think about ways to manipulate the toy to retrieve it.  So if you can know how much you need to offer and how much you are offering, tweak the amount based on your pet’s lifestyle, offer a feeding style more compatible with your pet’s wild ancestors and keep his mind and body as active as possible, you have a recipe for health and happiness!

Photo Credit: Bryant Wong via: imager.io, cc

Dr. Kathryn Primm is a veterinarian and author. Her first book is Tennessee Tails: Pets and Their People, and you can visit her author site at http://www.drprimm.com/