Winter is approaching. Does your dog need more or less food during the winter?
We pet owners are accustomed to feeding our dogs the same amount of food every day of every month. Research in dogs and cats has revealed that this may be a mistaken approach. Apparently, dogs do not have the same caloric needs during the summer and winter. The reasons are seasonal hormone changes as well as changes in exercise.
During the spring and summer months, dogs are more active so they necessarily need more calories. Owners often notice that their dogs slim down during this time of year if the amount of food is constant. Unknown to the owners are hormonal changes that increase metabolism that also adds to the need for more calories. Research in wild dogs shows that hunger increases during this time of year and continues into early fall. This is an adaptive change that ensures that dogs build body protein and fat stores to survive the winter months when food is in short supply.
During winter the brain responds to the shorter days and hormonal changes decrease metabolism. The decreased calorie requirement conserves muscle and fat tissue during this time of food scarcity. The same hormonal changes are occurring in domesticated dogs. Their calorie needs decrease in the winter. Feeding the same amount of food as other times of year, dogs will gain weight because they store these extra calories. Harsh weather also decreases exercise that further decreases caloric needs. This is why dogs commonly gain weight during the winter and early spring.
How do we use this research? Ideally dogs should be fed less food during the winter, especially if exercise is severely limited. Starting in late spring dogs may need to be fed more, especially if there is a dramatic increase of physical activity. By monitoring your dog’s BCS (body condition score) accurate feeding during different seasons is easily achievable.
~Dr Ken Tudor
THE DOG DIETITIAN