Downeast Dog News

How to keep my dog fit in winter?

By Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH | Nov 13, 2020

Q. Last winter my dog gained a lot of weight. By spring, he had trouble walking and panted a lot. How can I prevent this from happening again this year?

A. It is natural in cold climates to put on a little weight in the winter to keep warm. Too much weight and not enough activity can bring on symptoms of pain and sets your dog up for chronic disease.

The three topics for a healthy winter are weight management, safe exercise, and mental health. I will begin with weight management. The holidays are coming, which includes extra treats around the house. Though with COVID we will not be having the family gatherings and parties as years before, we will be celebrating in our own way. A few changes happen in winter to cause weight gain. First, in bad weather your dog’s activity decreases because of shorter days, fewer opportunities to exercise, and bad weather. Second is the added volume of calories in snacks from the table or counter, toddlers sharing their food, and not changing the volume of dog food at mealtime.

I am not a proponent of diet dog food, but I do recommend volume control and supplementing with fresh food. If you know your dog gains weight each year, then cut back on the amount of food you feed per day. On the average a cup of kibble is plenty for a 20 to 30-pound dog depending on activity. So, an active adult whose normal weight is 40 pounds would get 2 cups per day. A 40-pound couch potato would get 1 1/2 cups. A reminder: these are guidelines just like the recommendations on the bag. You need to adjust the amount of food to your dog’s ideal weight and activity. This is without any treats, tastes, or stolen snacks. Realistically, we would change this for our 40-pound average dog to one cup kibble and a half a cup of snacks and treats. That lick of ice cream or cleaning out the cereal bowl adds up.

Guardians who feed kibble need to remember that kibble is high in carbohydrates. This is how the food stays in kibble form. Just like us, if you eat a high carbohydrate diet and you don’t burn it off, the excess goes into fat. For my kibble clients, I will suggest exchanging a third of the kibble for fresh food. When cooking dinner save a portion of the meat without sauces and seasoning for Fido. You can save some veggies too. So, our couch potato will get a half a cup of meat and veggies and a cup of kibble. If you are giving snacks during cooking, remember that counts.

How do you exercise your best friend safely in the winter? If it is a nice day but cold, there are all types of dog coats out there. They have raincoats too. Find the thickness that makes your dog comfortable. Some dogs love the cold and don’t need a coat, but there is a concern with their feet.

Feet can be cut on ice and the salt on the road can cause dermatitis. There are several brands of boots you can buy for your dog. You do have to train your dog to walk in them. If you have a furry pawed companion, then you need to trim the fur around the feet, so snow, ice and debris doesn’t get caught up in the fur. When you hike or snowshoe in the woods, snow will ball up in between the toes and can cause toe injuries. Don’t shave the fur out between the toes but trim it short. Healthy fur between the toes helps protect the feet. There is a product called Musher’s Secret which keeps the snow from balling up on the feet.

An unfit dog allowed to bound through the snow and ice is setting him up for joint sprains, strains, and damage. Shovel or snowplow a path around the backyard so your dog can run freely. When you are out in the woods, remember it takes more energy to move through the snow than on an autumn walk. Your dog doesn’t sweat so bring lots of water. Go on short walks to start and over the winter you can lengthen them.

On those bad days when you can’t go out and Fido is bouncing off the walls, there are lots of things you can do to bring sanity and fitness into his life. In other articles I have talked about the benefits of nose work. This mental activity will tire your dog out in a good way. Remember food rewards still counts as calories in. The last thing I want to mention is core fitness. Like people, this activity is done in short sessions. It strengthens our dog’s muscles and improves balance and body awareness to prevent injury and stay fit. It also tires him out. There are lots of videos out there on how to do this. I also want to mention that Power Up K9, here in Maine, is doing zoom classes. You can check out her website for details.

Have a fun and safe winter. After all, we do live in Maine.


Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH

Animal Wellness Center

Augusta, Maine