Winter Fitness For Dogs

Couple walking Labrador in Autumn

As winter progresses, I notice that an increasing number of dogs coming in for their Annual Health Check are carrying more weight than is ideal. When I politely point out that ‘Fido’ could do with losing a few pounds the response is usually, “He always puts on weight at this time of year because we can’t walk him as far.” Unfortunately, it is more difficult to lose weight than to put it on, and some never lose their winter reserves!

Obesity is a big problem for pets: insurers Pet Plan find that vets consider 36% of the dogs they treat as being classed as obese. Obesity puts a strain on both the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems, and can increase the chance of diabetes and some types of cancer.

Short winter days do present a challenge for dog owners wanting to keep their dogs fit and trim. Invest in a good waterproof coat, and over-trousers, and walks on rainy days become much more comfortable.

Thin coated dogs may appreciate a light coat, too, but get them used to it at home first. If you need to walk when it is dark, stick to well-lit pavements and wear Hi-Viz and reflective clothing. You can also buy lights for your belt, hat, or dog’s collar to help cars see you in dim light.

Couple walking Labrador in Autumn

If you don’t like walking in the dark, think of games your dog can play at home or in the garden. Dogs can use their noses to sniff out toys thrown in a dark garden, or hidden in the house. There are also light-up balls for sale, but never leave dogs unattended with these as they aren’t indestructible. Consider looking for an indoor agility class to add variety to your dog’s exercise and training, or even book some swimming sessions at a local hydrotherapy pool.

Even if you don’t mind the wet, dark, and cold, most dogs won’t be doing as much exercise in the winter as they do in the summer, so they won’t need as many calories.

Most Vet practices and many pet shops have scales for you to accurately monitor your dog’s weight. You might also find it useful to measure your dog around the neck, mid chest, and mid abdomen. Take measurements every two weeks so any changes are small and adjust food and treats accordingly. Start with a 5% reduction and weigh again in a couple of weeks.

You might also want to monitor your dog’s body condition. The most commonly used scale rates the dog’s shape from 1 to 9, with 4 and 5 being ‘normal’. A dog in healthy body condition has ribs which can be easily felt but not seen, a defined waist, and a ‘tuck’ to the abdomen, though this is less pronounced in some breeds than others. If you are unsure what a healthy weight and body condition for your dog is, your Veterinary Practice will be happy to advise you.

85% of owners saw an improvement in their dog's behaviour.* *Breakthrough customer data survey August 2022

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