Downeast Dog News

What to do with a winter couch potato?

By Dr. Judith Herman | Dec 30, 2016
Q. I have 2 problems with the winter months and my dog, Buster. One of the problems  is he gains a lot of weight, and the second problem is that he drives me crazy when the weather is bad. How can I correct these problems?

A. Winter can be challenging if you are not an outdoor winter person. People think their dogs just gain weight in the winter and in the summer will take it off. That doesn’t always work. Also, days are shorter in the winter, and we have a lot to do with the holidays that just don’t include Buster.

If you are not an outdoor person but want to keep your dog in shape, you can take him to a day care once or twice a week. That would give him exercise with other dogs and tire him out. Interview the day care you are interested in to see if their philosophy matches yours and the set up is good for your dog. Not all dogs can go anywhere and be fine. Some dogs have  personality quirks or special needs.

Even short walks will help Buster. Remember it is cold for him too. If you are walking in town or on the side of a street, try booties to keep the salt off his paws. If he hates the booties, be sure to wash the paws when you get home. If your pup is lifting a paw, then another one, you know it is too cold outside for him.

Remember calories consumed causes weight gain. If your dog is active in the warmer weather and is a slug in the winter, then cut down on his groceries! Just reducing his total food intake in a day by an eighth or a quarter will keep him from getting fat. Monitor his weight by weighing him at your veterinarian’s or by feeling his ribs and back. If you can feel his ribs but can’t see them, then he will be at a good weight.

The best way to tire a dog who can’t go outside to run and play is to challenge his mind. There are many interactive toys you can buy. Most are toys challenging the dog’s ability to problem solve. These toys have food hidden in them. Other toys have a prey drive component to them which causes the dog to chase an object.

Something else that has become very popular is nose work. This is a game where a scent, the dog has been trained to detect, is hidden. The dog has to find the hidden scent.  There are classes everywhere to get you started. This is so easy to set up in your house, and the dogs work hard to find the scent. It is a lot of fun for you and Buster.

Even if you and your dog prefer not to be outside in the winter, there are fun ways to keep your dog from getting fat and out of shape. Even if your favorite hobby in the winter is being a couch potato, you can set up these simple games and challenges to keep Buster in shape.

Have a wonderful winter inside.
Judith K. Herman CVH, DVM
Animal Wellness Center
Augusta, ME 04330