Should I Feed My Dog More in the Winter?

Posted by Amy Hempe on

Dogs do not need extra food in the winter. We all like to joke about “winter weight,” but for our pups, this has the potential to be dangerous.

fat dogs in winter

            Winter time is noted for fewer daylight hours and cold weather, even sub-freezing temperatures. The cold and the darkness activate our dogs’ brains into a conservation mode. Their metabolism slows down and they are much less active than usual.

            While a few doggos out there might walk away from their food bowl with kibble still in it, most of us know the other type of dog: finishing every morsel in the dog bowl during any time of the year and never turning down food. I have to be extra careful in the winter time because that’s when I bake cookies, and counter surfing becomes my dogs’ favorite indoor sport.

            My dogs do not count calories, nor do they belong to any gyms. Their exercise is based upon their indoor play – which, being large dogs is limited to a small living room – and my ability to take them outdoors. When it snows, they love it for a few minutes. Snow zoomies happen, and then they want to head back inside where they can snuggle next to the heating vent and sprawl out on the enormous dog bed that grandma bought for them.

            I have wondered if they needed extra calories to keep warm, but I was quickly dissuaded by my vet. They are not working dogs, nor are they training for the Iditarod. They are perfectly warm inside my house. They snuggle up with each other, and judging by the amount of dog hair on the sofa, they find many places to prevent hypothermia. Warmth is not an issue.

            If they have extra calories, they can gain more weight than is necessary. Even for larger dogs, a few pounds can strain joints and exacerbate other health issues. They do not need the extra pounds. Extra pounds in the winter lead to having to lose pounds in the spring, and that is no fun for anybody.

            Keep the Food Amount the Same or Cut Back?

            A lot of us have jobs that keep us very busy right after the holidays.  Sometimes we do not get home until well past dark. Even if we have dog walkers, our dogs are probably not getting as much exercise as they do during the warmer months.

            When I know my schedule in advance – if I am planning a snowshoe trek or have time for an extra long walk on the weekends, then the dogs can eat the same amount as usual. Otherwise I’ll cut back just a bit – not too much, but I’ll scale back on the kibble.  Using visual cues, I’ll fill the scoop to the near-top, or whatever line I use as the cut-off point. I’ll give them some carrots and green beans to fill them up a little more. And of course I’ll make sure they get plenty of water.

            Nutritionally, their needs don’t change too much. Talk to your vet about adjusting protein and fat amounts. In the meantime, scale back on any holiday dog treat gifts – spread them out throughout the year (they’ll last), and avoid adding to their caloric load.

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