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Pet Fitness Bootcamp: Keeping Your Pet Active During the Winter

Based on an article that first appeared at

As temperatures drop and the days get shorter, it can be tempting for both owners and pets alike to cozy up inside for a season-long hibernation from activity. A warm fire, cozy blankets, and your pet curled up by your side; who wouldn't want to spend every day of winter like that?

However, decreased activity in the winter can take a huge toll on a pet's overall fitness and lead to unwanted weight gain. In this blog, we'll explore the current risks and rates of pet obesity, what contributes to weight gain in winter, and, most importantly, offer practical advice on how you can keep your dogs and cats active and healthy during this season.

By understanding the factors that lead to weight gain and implementing proactive measures, you can ensure your pets thrive physically and mentally throughout the colder months. So, let's get started.

Pet Obesity: Rising Rates & Top Risks for Pets

Before we get ahead of ourselves and start planning an intensive fitness routine for our furry friends, it’s time to address the elephant in the room: those seemingly harmless extra few pounds that may creep onto your pet’s frame and how dangerous they can actually be.

Pet obesity is a wide-sweeping issue, with around 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the United States being classified as overweight or obese. When pets carry excessive weight, a number of compounding health issues can arise or be exacerbated. Obesity can lead to unnecessary strain on an animal's joints, contributing to arthritis and decreased mobility, leading to chronic pain and discomfort. But that’s not all; overweight pets are at a higher risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and respiratory issues.

Jack Russel running in the snow.

What Leads to Pet Weight Gain in the Winter Months?

Winter months often exacerbate the problem of obesity in pets due to decreased physical activity and increased calorie intake. Multiple factors play into the challenges of pet weight gain in the winter, including:

Reduced Exercise Opportunities

When temperatures begin dropping, and snow and ice cover the ground, it can be exceptionally challenging for both owners and pets to have the motivation to get outside for routine walks or romps in the yard. We get it; it’s much more appealing to stay warm indoors instead of shrugging on layer after layer of winter gear for a chilly walk around the block.

But that’s where the opportunities for weight gain creep in. Your pet is likely not keeping up with the same activity level they had in warmer months, but their feeding protocol likely hasn’t changed to compensate for the change. This brings us to the next reason for winter weight gain…

Overfeeding

Outside of overfeeding from neglecting to account for lack of activity, winter brings out several other opportunities to intake a few more calories than they should. Holiday weight gain is certainly a thing for people, but did you also know that it can affect your pets?

With the holiday season early in winter comes an abundance of treats and table scraps. It's easy to indulge our pets with extra treats during festivities and social gatherings, unknowingly contributing to their caloric intake.

Shorter Daylight Hours

In the winter, outdoor exercise time is not only limited by the weather, but also by the hours of available daylight. For pet owners working full time, the sun is often setting by the time they clock out or leave the office, making it difficult or unsafe to exercise outdoors with their dogs.

The shorter days can really disrupt your pet's routine and limit their exposure to natural light. Not only does this affect when they can exercise outdoors, it can also affect their energy levels and overall mood, making them less inclined to engage in physical activities.

Changes in Owner Schedules

With the holidays and the start of a new year situated right during winter, pet owners’ schedules are likely more inconsistent than ever. Traveling for the holidays, onboarding for a new job at the start of the year, or spending extra time at the gym for a New Year’s resolution can actually have an impact on your pet’s activity level, too!

With so much going on, owners could potentially be neglecting their pet’s typical activity needs without even realizing it.

Cat jumping at home obstacle course.How to Keep Your Pet Active in the Winter

For Dogs

  • Capitalize on Indoor Playtime: Invest in interactive toys that stimulate your dog mentally and physically. Puzzle feeders or toys that dispense treats can turn mealtime into an engaging activity that burns off a little extra energy.
  • Get Creative with Walks: Bundle up and take your dog for brisk walks during daylight hours. If the weather is too harsh or you think your dog may be uncomfortable, consider using a well-fitted doggy sweater or booties to protect them from the cold and keep them looking cute.
  • Training Sessions: Use the winter months as an opportunity to reinforce basic commands or teach your dog new tricks. Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise, and your dog will be ready for all of the outdoor time they could ever want come spring! But a word of warning: don’t go overboard on training treats, or you could be doing more harm than good.

For Cats

  • Open Up Some Vertical Spaces: Cats absolutely love to climb, so be sure to provide vertical spaces like cat trees or shelves to encourage more movement and play while your cat is inside. Access to higher spaces not only encourages physical activity but also fulfills their natural instinct to survey their surroundings and keep a look out over the house.
  • Invest in Interactive Toys: You may be thinking, “My cat does NOT need any more toys!’ But hear us out. Toys that mimic prey, like feather wands or laser pointers, can help engage your cat in playful activities and encourage running, jumping, and chasing behaviors. Rotating these toys to offer new experiences every few days can help keep your cat’s interest piqued all season long.
  • Get Ready for a Game of Hide and Seek: Hiding small treats or toys around the house for your cat to discover can be a ton of fun for both of you. Getting a little competitive and hiding things in harder-to-reach locations can be a great way to explore new areas or jump to new heights. But once again, be sure to keep an eye on their intake of treats to keep their energy expenditure and calorie intake balanced for a healthy weight.

More Winter Fitness Tips for All Pets

  • Maintain a Balanced Diet: Be mindful of your pet's calorie intake, especially during the winter months. Adjust their diet based on their activity level to prevent unnecessary weight gain.
  • Schedule Regular Vet Check-ups: Schedule regular veterinary check-ups to monitor your pet's weight and overall health, not just during winter, but all year round. This can help your vet establish your pet’s baseline or normal weight and help you monitor if there are any worrying changes during the winter.
  • Prioritize Warmth and Comfort: At the end of the day, your pet’s comfort and safety should always come first. Ensure your pet has a warm and cozy space indoors for them to retreat to after outdoor play. Comfortable beds, blankets, and heated pads can make winter more enjoyable for them and give them something to look forward to when they get inside. This is especially important for older pets or pets with arthritis.

Make Winter Weight Gain a Thing of the Past

With a little creativity and a few extra layers of clothing for you and your pet, it can be fun and rewarding to keep your pet active, healthy, and happy throughout the colder months. While you don’t need to start a marathon training plan for your dog or cat to keep winter weight at bay, a little extra intentional movement each day can do wonders for keeping your pet’s waist trim.

If you have questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (941) 253-5218, or you can email us at staff@uacvet.com. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram.

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