The Flip Side

Pets living primarily outdoors need more calories during winter months to maintain a healthy weight, nutritionists say.

Ashley Cooper/Alamy

Pets living primarily outdoors need more calories during winter months to maintain a healthy weight, nutritionists say. This fact may be unknown to the owner and overlooked by the veterinarian considering many pets now enjoy indoor life.

Overweight and obese stats (according to the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention:
• An estimated 15 percent of U.S. dogs and cats are obese. That’s 26 million obese pets.
• An estimated 45 percent of U.S. dogs are overweight or obese.
• 35 million U.S. dogs are estimated to be overweight or obese; 6.7 million are obese.
• An estimated 58 percent of U.S. cats are overweight or obese.

“If kept in a cooler environment, pets’ energy expenditure actually increases with the increased calories that are burned to keep them warm,” says Sally Perea, DVM, Dipl. ACVN, a senior nutritionist with Natura Pet Products Inc. “Some pets kept outdoors may even put on extra weight as a way to increase their fat layer to stay warm. With this said, most pets are going to be kept in an indoor environment, so they should not have these additional energy needs.”

Veterinarians should ask clients whether their pet is kept indoors or outdoors. The response should be documented on the animal’s record.

“Feed diets that are appropriate for the pet’s activity level,” says Amy Dicke, DVM, a technical services veterinarian at Procter & Gamble Pet Care. “Some couch potatoes may need to be placed on reduced-fat diets early in their adulthood. There is disparity in owner recognition of the importance of keeping their pet at an appropriate weight. In fact, many owners don’t recognize when their pet is overweight, and too often an obese body condition has occurred before they register concern.


Owners know pets need exercise rain or shine, but that means more than what they get on bathroom breaks.

“For many dogs, the only exercise they get may be their normal walks,” says Brent Mayabb, DVM, manager of education and development at Royal Canin. “If the walks are decreased, then the pets may have no other form of exercise. Some products help make walking in cold weather better for dogs, such as coats and boots to help protect their paws, but ultimately, it’s up to the owners to do it. Obesity is insidious. The changes are so gradual that they usually escape the owner’s attention until they're pretty far advanced.”

Nutrition is gradually gaining the respect it deserves in preventing medical ailments, experts say, but  since pets’ weight can parallel that of their owner, who often don’t make the best decisions for themselves, it’s up to veterinarians to be their patient’s advocate.

“Knowing that different people take in information in different ways, visual aids like body condition scoring charts in the waiting or exam rooms and television programs can help reinforce the message,” Dr. Mayabb says. “What I’ve found most effective in is having a veterinary technician speak to the pet owner. After the veterinarian has finished the appointment, the technician can restate some of the things the vet said as well as spend more time and answer questions. This seems to have a stronger impact on the owner.”

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