Hibernation is a process where some animals will fatten themselves up in order to survive while going into a deep sleep over the winter. This is a necessity for animals such as bears, bats, and ground squirrels; however not for our cats and dogs. Over the winter, the cold, uninviting weather makes it difficult for us to be as active as we are in the warmer months; and instead, many of us tuck ourselves away into the warmth and comfort of our homes. Consequently, we pack on the pounds, as do our family pets; especially without the long walks or hours in the dog run.
According to a study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), our dogs gain 0.3 pounds between the months of October and February; our cats gain 0.37 pounds. This may not seem like a lot but it is important to remember that one pound on a dog is equivalent to approximately 5-7 pounds in a human and one pound on a cat is equivalent to 7-10 pounds on a person. Obesity can lead to life-shortening and expensive diseases in our pets, such as joint disease, heart disease, and diabetes mellitus. With over 50% of our pets being obese, it is important to realize how important these statistics are and understand the dangers of unwanted weight on our pets.
Because it is more difficult to exercise during the winter months, we must find creative ways to keep those pounds off. Short outdoor sessions with high aerobic activity such as tug-of-war or fetch will help burn additional calories. Indoor activities such as running your dog on a treadmill, or enrolling in an indoor class are fun options as well.
If you are planning on spending time outdoors during the colder months with your pet, remember to keep your pet safe and warm by dressing them in well-fitting coats and don’t forget the booties, if your pet will allow. If you can’t convince your pet to wear booties, be sure to wash the chemical de-icers off of their feet; many of these can cause serious damage to your dog’s footpads.
If you think your pet may be overweight, or does gain a bit over these colder months, make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss a healthy weight loss plan and discuss proper nutrition. By taking these proper steps towards a healthier life-style for your pet, you will be ensuring that they live a happier and longer life.
Originally from Ohio, Dr. Ritchie moved to New York City in 2000. While completing her pre-veterinary requirements at Columbia University and Hunter College, she worked at multiple veterinary practices as a technician to hone her skills. She then moved onto Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, completing her clinical training at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in August 2010. While still in veterinary school, she co-authored an article entitled “The Anatomy and Physiology of the Avian Endocrine System” for the publication Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice.
Dr. Ritchie has a strong interest in internal medicine, especially endocrinology, soft tissue surgery, emergency & critical care, and avian/exotic medicine. As a former education director at a museum she is also well-qualified for the client education that is so important to her since, in her opinion, it is the cornerstone of a trusting relationship between clients and their veterinarians.
By Midge L. Ritchie, DVM