Diet and Exercise

As we head into the cooler months, you may find yourself spending less time outside with your dog, and consequently your dog is not getting the same amount or structure of interaction and exercise that he may be accustomed to. When Fall and Winter set in, humans are sometimes prone to a more sedentary lifestyle due to the weather, and so we may find ourselves putting on a bit of winter weight if we don’t adjust our routines accordingly. The same can be said for canines, and as their caregivers and companions it is up to us to ensure that our dogs’ health and fitness does not suffer in the face of the changing seasons. So, as we have heard many times from our own physicians, we need to appropriately control the two main contributors to a healthy weight for our pets… you guessed them- Diet and Exercise.

Exploring Different Diets for your Dog
Stroll down the aisles of any pet supply store and you’ll see the incredibly wide array of food choices that are out there for your dog. And it’s likely that isn’t even all of them! Add that to the well-intentioned opinions offered by dog owner friends, and you might find yourself just a bit overwhelmed. To help you make sense of some of the options out there, here’s a starter guide to the pros and cons of some popular categories:

Raw Diet
Raw diets have definitely gained popularity in recent years, and those who put their dogs on this regimen tend to swear by it. Uncooked foods that make up the raw diet will usually include muscle meat from animals, whole or ground bones, organ meats like kidney or liver, eggs, and vegetables or fruit. Dairy products may also be included, such as unpasteurized yogurt or milk. Proponents say the raw diet more closely mimics what dogs’ ancestors ate, listing benefits that include elimination of allergies, healthier skin and coat, and improved immunity. Skeptics, however, say domesticated dogs have adapted over millions of years to cooked food diets. They also warn of risks, mostly around the potential for bacterial contamination in meat that isn’t cooked.

Grain Free
Another popular trend in dog foods is the grain-free diet--food mixtures that don’t contain corn, soy, wheat, rice, barley or other grains. To provide carbohydrates normally found in those ingredients, grain-free dog food includes alternatives like peas, beans, or potatoes/sweet potatoes. It’s important to discuss the pros and cons of a grain-free diet with your veterinary healthcare team, to be sure it’s the best fit for your pet. Though not yet supported by conclusive evidence, there are on-going studies investigating a possible link between grain-free diets and incidents of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a heart condition that decreases the heart’s ability to pump blood, so your vet’s input is important.

Therapeutic Diet
Working with your veterinary health provider, you may choose to put your dog on a therapeutic diet, specially formulated to address a specific need. Nutrients may be included for their ability to alleviate an allergy, dissolve bladder stones, or slow kidney disease, for example. There may be some trial and error before finding the most successful combination, but you’ll have your vet’s expertise to guide you.

Take It Slow
Regardless of which diet you choose for your dog, the guidelines are the same when it comes to transitioning him from one diet or food to another type of diet or food. Make the change gradually, by first mixing a small amount of the new food in with his current food and then increasing that amount over the course of a week to ten days, slowly displacing his old food. This helps to allow your dog’s digestive system to adjust smoothly. If you see signs of intestinal upset, such as loose stool or a gurgly stomach, slow the process down. Stay at that point in the transition until symptoms go away, then continue until he is eating only the new food. As always, if you have questions or concerns regarding your dog’s intestinal health, consult your vet.

Pick Up the Pace
When it comes to exercise, your dog is likely not picky about what you do! A walk, a jog, a vigorous game of fetch or a romp around the yard chasing leaves…all of these will get your dog’s blood pumping and his muscles stretched. Keep in mind that every dog’s exercise requirements are different (is your dog a canine couch potato or a hiking hound?) and you should aim for a minimum of 20 minutes of interactive exercise or play every day, if not more. Also be realistic about what your dog can handle- your Chihuahua may not have the stamina required for a 5-mile jog, and your German Shepherd might be better suited for a brisk uphill hike than a leisurely walk around the block. Whatever you do, enjoy some exercise together!