Helping to Prevent Seasonal Weight Gain in Pets

By Cassie Panning, CVT
Veterinary Information Specialist

Have you ever noticed that, just like some people, our pets tend to gain weight over the winter too?  Seasonal weight gain in pets is something that happens to many of our domesticated animals in the fall and winter.  So what causes our pets to gain weight over the winter?  Well, it is attributed to many different factors, but there are things to watch for and also some tips on how to help prevent it.

As the days get shorter and the weather gets cooler our pets may appear to be hungrier and seek additional food.  It is something that is ingrained into them to help prepare for winter.  Since many of our pets now live in our homes, they don’t have a need for this increase in caloric intake to help sustain them during the winter months.  During the colder months, many of us spend more time indoors and are less active, which in turn means our pets are less active too leading to an increase in weight gain.  While a few pounds may not seem like much to us, it can be significant to our furry friends, especially those already predisposed to obesity.  Once our pets gain weight and develop an unhealthy body condition, it can take a considerable amount of time and work to get them back to a healthy body weight and body condition.

So how do we help prevent our pets from gaining seasonal weight?  The first step is making sure that we are not exceeding our pet’s caloric needs with their diet.  This can be trickier than it seems, as all pets require a different number of calories to maintain a healthy lean body mass.  Using the suggestions on your pet’s food bag is a good starting point, but remember that it is only a suggestion.  Saying that the amount on the bag is the same for all dogs of that weight is like saying all people need to consume 2,000 calories in a day.   You also need to make sure that your pet’s minimum protein needs are being met with the food as well.  If you simply decrease the calories, but are not meeting protein requirements, your pet may lose lean muscle mass. If you are unsure if you pet’s needs are being met, check with your veterinarian for recommendations on a pet food that meets your individual pet’s needs.

Treats also play a big role in our pets gaining weight, as they often take up too large of a percentage of our pet’s caloric intake.  Treats should be used in moderation and treats that are not complete and balanced (meaning they can not be feed exclusively as your pet’s diet) should make up no more than 10% of their daily intake of calories.   Try swapping high calorie treats for lower calorie options such as fruits and vegetables; and remember to avoid those that can be toxic to our pets! For more information on foods to avoid, check our list of toxic foods at   Following these simple suggestions as well as keeping our pet’s active can help ward off season weight gain this winter.