By Wanda Ross, AAS, RVT, AAHA accreditation
The temptation to sample one more holiday cookie or drink one more glass of eggnog can be a struggle for most of us. Studies show that the average person will gain one to eight pounds during the holiday season. The unfortunate consequence of people putting on pounds can be weight gain for our pets as well.
During the holiday shopping season, it’s hard to resist buying a special holiday treat for your dog or cat. A large portion of the $45 billion spent annually on pets comes from the purchase of toys and treats during the holidays.
Michael Seimer, DVM, owner and medical director at AAHA-accredited Suburban Animal Clinic in Columbus, Ohio, says, “We see many pets from February through April who have gained a few pounds. The excess weight on dogs and cats can jeopardize their health, resulting in skin problems, lethargy and, for older pets, joint problems and arthritis.”
What pet owners don’t always think about is the number of calories and the nutritional content in treats. It’s important to read the label and consider if that single dog cookie, decorated like a reindeer is worth an extra 100 calories. Or what about the cat treat, decorated to look like a mouse? How many calories will that add to your cat’s daily intake? Too many treats, especially high-calorie treats, can result in your pet gaining extra weight during the holidays.
Seimer says, “Cats and dogs don’t really know about holidays, but they are interested in all the food. Consider filling a toy with some of your pet’s food, peanut butter or healthier treats that also help clean their teeth, and giving that to your pet while food is being cooked and served.”
If you invite family or friends to your home, ask your guests not to feed your pet or provide them with some appropriate treats to share. Watching an adorable face begging for a morsel of food is hard to resist.
Friends and family will often offer table treats to your pet, sometimes when you are not looking, so take care. “Having some people foods, like cooked green beans or carrots for your pets is OK, but remember to beware that foods like grapes, onions and chocolate can be toxic to pets,” Seimer says.
Seimer also advises pet owners to be aware of where you’re leaving food and to try not to leave it on counters or areas where pets will be tempted to get into it. “Eating holiday foods intended for people can also lead to things like pancreatitis and dental disease,” says Seimer.
Pet obesity is on the rise. It is estimated 45% of dogs and 58% of cats are obese. Consider weighing your pet at the beginning of the holiday season at your veterinarian’s office. Then weigh it again soon after the holidays. If your pet is already at an unhealthy weight, your veterinarian can advise a course of action for weight loss for your pet. Seimer says, “We weigh, do a body conditioning score and assess each patient’s nutritional status, and create an individualized nutrition and weight loss plan for each patient.”
Seimer also recommends plenty of playtime and physical activity with your pets. Taking a longer walk or more frequent walks with your dog can be beneficial for both you and your pet. Playing ball or Frisbee or jogging with your dog is a great way to help burn additional calories.
Cats can sleep as much as 20 hours in a day, so encouraging a cat to run and play with toys will increase their physical activity. Consider activities that encourage your cat to chase. Toys like a mouse on the end of a wand or a light (laser) beam toy designed specifically for cats will help increase their physical activity.
Include stairs in your pet’s playtime by carrying it down the steps, and then encourage it to climb back up while chasing a toy. Most of all, have fun with whatever activity you choose for your dog or cat.
During this holiday season, remember to be aware of the amount of extra treats your pet is consuming and try to keep their consumption of people food to a minimum. Just like for us, taking off pounds is always more challenging than putting them on.