For most dogs as well as dog owners the fall and winter months tend to be much less active than the spring and summer. The weather has become colder and wetter and overall it just seems more difficult to get motivate to go outdoors and exercise. For people there is always the chance to go to the gym, join a sports and fitness club, or get on the old treadmill or stationary bike but for dogs exercise options are really limited.Even for those dogs that stay outdoors during the day they are much more likely to find a warm spot in the doghouse or kennel and just relax and wait for you to get home.
Finding a way to help manage your dogs weight over the winter months can definitely be a challenge. If you plan creative and unique ways to get your dog outside and activity you may be surprised at how well they are able to stay slim and trim over the winter months. Remember that routine walks are still important both for mental and physical health, plus it will prevent your dog from turning to destructive behaviors if they feel cooped up over the winter season.
If your dog is getting a regular, brisk twenty to thirty minute walk at least once a day and he or she seems to be gaining weight the first step is to closely examine how much your dog is eating. All those extra little treats he or she is getting while you are preparing meals, cleaning up after dinner or even just as you walk by the treat dish is going to start adding up when the dog is less active. Carefully monitor exactly how much your dog is eating by including both treats and food. Most vets and canine nutrition specialists indicate that your dog should be getting no more than 5% of the total food intake per day from treats or snacks, even the healthy ones. There are healthy and weight managed treats on the market, but even those should be limited to encourage the dog to eat his or her food.
Many manufacturers now list both the calories per treat as well as the fats per snack. They also give a recommended number of treats per day, which is usually no more than 5 per day based on the size of the treat and the weight of the dog. If you are trying to help your dog maintain weight or even work off a few pounds, cut each biscuit or snack in half or thirds and feed each one of the pieces as a complete treat. If, therefore, you were feeding 6 treats before, cut three in half to give you six halves. Your dog will still get a treat as he or she expects, it will just be half as big. Another option is to buy only treats for small dogs, regardless of the actual size of the dog you have. This will only be an effective reduction if you have previously fed large or medium sized treats, but it will slightly reduce the amount of calories from the treats.
Food consumption at meals can also be reduced slightly over the winter months if the dog is not active or is leaving food behind in the bowl. Most dogs will only eat until they are full, however when there are multiple dogs or if you have a dog that simply eats whatever ration you provide you may want to cut back by ¼ of the total amount during high periods of inactivity. If your dog remains active or is a puppy only cut back after consulting with your vet. Never cut back food on animals that are recovering from a medical condition, females that are pregnant or dogs that have digestive or metabolic problems unless you are working in consultation with your vet.
You may be surprised at all the winter activities you can do with your dog. There is no reason why you can't all bundle up and go for a hike at the lake, park or in the country just because there is a little snow. These outings are great for the whole family and you will find that your dog will be back to his or her old self once they realize they are in for a fun bit of exercise.
If you cross country ski or snowshoe, taking your dog along is a great exercise opportunity. Just remember that your dog won't be sliding along the top of the snow and you will need to carefully monitor your dog and stop before he or she gets tired. Be sure to also routinely check their paws for any signs of ice build up between the toes that can lead to lameness and irritation of the feet. In addition bring water for the dog, eating snow will not replenish the water loss from the body if they are panting heavily and working hard. Remember also that humidity tends to be much lower in the winter, which will lead to faster dehydration.
Many dogs love to run down the hill with the family when sledding or tobogganing. Just be very careful, this can be extremely dangerous to the dog as they often don't know to get out of the way. Some dogs even love to work in a harness and pull a sled or toboggan. Larger breeds and northern breeds are the best examples of dogs that can be used for sledding. If you really enjoy the sport there are sled dog associations and clubs in most northern areas and they often hold exhibitions and training sessions.
If you compete with your dog in agility, hunting, obedience or other types of events you don't have to stop training over the winter. Check with your local dog association or shelter, there may be groups that have rented indoor facilities for year round training. Typically you have to joint the club or association to gain access to the rental facility, but the cost is usually very reasonable.
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