Stephen Burroughs is a writer, Humane Society volunteer, and lifelong dog-lover. His best friend and benevolent overlord is a Miniature Pinscher named Herschel. Stephen writes for Havahart, which specializes in a variety of dog doors.
The holidays are stressful, and after we survive all of that stress we usually feel bad about ourselves when it’s all done. We chide ourselves for eating too much good food, for having too many adult beverages and scold ourselves at how much money we spent. We’re stressed the whole time, we enjoy ourselves for a few moments, and then we’re back to stressing out/hating ourselves. For us, a few extra pounds aren’t the end of the world. We can work dutifully and get back to where we were before the most wonderful time of the year. Unfortunately, our dogs also tend to gain weight during the holidays and it’s hard for them to shed those extra pounds without our help.
How It Happens
We work hard during the holidays. We spend time wrapping presents, shopping, cooking and hanging out with relatives we don’t see more than a few times a year. That means we also spend less time with our dogs. To make up for that, we tend to feed them a little bit more off of our plates. They get extra portions of our holiday feasts, which packs on the pounds quickly. I’m not immune from this either—I keep a careful mental list of which human foods to never feed Herschel (my Min Pin), but I have moments of weakness where I feed him something that he can reasonably get away with eating. I did it more than once this holiday season because I felt bad for him.
Herschel ended up gaining almost a third of a pound—that’s a ton for such a little guy!
How We Can Reverse the Curse
According to PetObesityPrevention.com, approximately 45% of American pets are overweight or obese. That’s a rough road to travel down, and it can start once we overfeed our furry friends during the holidays. Health is all about habits, and if we start picking up bad pet-related habits, we’ll likely keep them up. Remember that our dogs might have the best intentions in the world—they just need our help when it comes to structure and their daily routine.
It’s 2013 now and the holidays are over. I can’t exactly say “Quick, get in your time machine and stop your past self from giving your pet too many holiday treats and human food!”
We can only deal with the future. The solution, it turns out, is actually pretty easy. For a few weeks, just feed your dog a few less pieces of kibble. Don’t starve him by any means, just pour a bit less than you usually do. During that time, take the opportunity to go on a brisk half hour walk with your dog every day (every day you possibly can, anyway). You’ll both shed some holiday pounds—though don’t be surprised if your dog gets slim and trim more quickly than you do!
How to Prevent it Next Time
This is going to sound crazy, but to prevent the pet weight gain next holiday season the first step is to dial down the empathy. We all feel bad when we don’t get as much tennis ball time in with our dog because we had to spend a few hours shopping or making that one casserole everyone politely takes a few small bites of and never finishes. When we start feeling too empathetic (and even guilty), we over-indulge our pets. We feed them way too many holiday dog treats and too much people food. We have to hold back and realize that we can make up the lost time in other ways.
When we do give our pets a little holiday treat, we should focus on crunchy veggies and lean meats. Anything deep fried, buttery or overly oily is pretty much a no. We also need to exercise portion control. Our dogs are seemingly bottomless pits; they’re quite a bit smaller than us so we need to plan accordingly when giving them a morsel. Just because they can eat an entire salmon steak in 10 seconds doesn’t mean we should give them one—a few little pieces are more than enough. Your dog will still be super excited to receive the gift of people food, but he won’t have the extra pounds that traditionally go along with it. In this case, we don’t want a gift that keeps on giving. The gifts that overindulging your dog during the holidays give are the following: weight gain, diabetes, heart problems and other life-threatening illnesses.
I haven’t seen Herschel’s weight since the vet recorded it a couple of days ago, but I’m determined to get him back down to where he was before this whole crazy holiday thing started. Our morning walks are cold, but they’re worth it. Even if the lure of a warm bed or couch are strong, we both feel better after a trot around the park every morning. He also doesn’t seem to notice I’m feeding him just a tiny bit less—but to be honest, I don’t think Herschel will ever think any amount of food is enough. He’s basically grumpy no matter what, but I’d rather have a healthy grump than a grump that I’ve gotten in the habit of overfeeding and under-exercising.
The holidays have come and gone. All we can do now is work to undo the damage we’ve done and give our dogs better options the next time the season comes around. Oh—we could stand to beat ourselves up about it a little less, too. An extra half pound isn’t the end of the world and our dogs will forgive us, so let’s just do better next time.