Home Podcast TOP #36: How Seasons Affect Your Dog’s Dietary Needs

TOP #36: How Seasons Affect Your Dog’s Dietary Needs

Winter is almost here, which means adjusting your and your dog's lifestyle to cold weather. Did you know that as seasons change, so does your dog's dietary needs? Contrary to popular belief, age related changes in the dog's diet aren't the only ones to pay attention to, and this is what we're going to discuss in this podcast episode.

Before recording this show, I've discussed the topic of changing dog's diet for fall and winter seasons with a veterinarian Dr Jeff Werber who works for Mars Petcare. We've had an email exchange where we talked about canine nutrition, pet obesity epidemic and everything pet owners need to know about adjusting their pets' diet for different seasons.

Listen to the episode in the video above and find the full podcast transcript below. For more, visit this episode’s post on the official Theory of Pets website.

How Seasons Affect Your Dog's Dietary Needs
(raw podcast transcript)

How Seasons Affect Your Dog's Dietary Needs

This week I'm talking to another expert from the pet industry. I was actually not able to speak with him in person, but I was able to have an email conversation with him. And the expert that I spoke with is Dr. Jeff Werber. He's a veterinarian and Mars Petcare spokesperson. Obviously, Mars Petcare is one of the leading pet product companies in the industry.

So to talk to Dr Werber was a great pleasure for me. And as you can probably imagine, he's a very busy guy. So we weren't able to touch base, but we did have a conversation through email and I learned some great information.

We spoke on a topic that is a top concern of mine, and that's obesity. We also talked about how seasons can affect your dog's appetite. This is the time of year when we're kind of transitioning from the busy, active summer lifestyle into Fall and Winter. Things kind of slow down a little. We don't do as much outdoor activity as we did in the warm summer months, most of us don't. Some people that live in climates that are still pretty mild might be outside and active. But in a lot of different areas of the world, the climate changes drastically and so things get a little bit more mellow, slow down a little bit in the Fall and Winter months.

So I wanted to talk about how that seasonal change can affect your pet's diet and can affect, obviously, your pet's metabolism. So we got talking about obesity, which is something I always stand on my soapbox whenever pet obesity comes on the table, because it's such an epidemic in our country and really around the world — it's one of the leading health conditions that veterinarians see. And it is a health condition that the sad part of it is — It's completely preventable. It's our fault as pet parents that our dogs are overweight, our cats are overweight. It's us overfeeding, and it's us not allowing them the exercise and the time to burn the calories that we're feeding them. So it's completely preventable.

Once your pet becomes obese, that opens the door to so many more health concerns, and that's what so many parents don't realize. You just think that your pet is fat and happy. You feed him. He loves eating. He loves treats. It makes him happy. It makes his tail wag. It makes your cat purr, and they rub all over you. They get so excited. They get treats. That part of it's great and I don't want to take that away from any pet owners or any pets by any means.

But the overfeeding leads to obesity, and that opens the door to so many serious health concerns. We're talking things like diabetes. Certain kinds of cancers have been linked to obesity are more commonly found in pets that are obese. Heart disease — major, major health concerns that are completely preventable. Or the concerns themselves aren't completely preventable, but the obesity is.

So you're making your pet more susceptible to being obese, and in turn making them more susceptible to all of these diseases. So again, this is part of what I talked to Dr. Werber about. And we also talked about the seasons.

So I'm just going to go over for you what we talked about and kind of give you his advice and tips, because there was some great stuff in here that I really wanted to share.

So first of all, on the pet obesity topic — like I said — it's become an epidemic here in the United States. So why is it so important for owners to monitor their pet's diet and keep them at an optimal weight? And when I asked Dr. Werber that, he told me that obesity is a common health issue that he is seeing more and more with his clients.

It's important for pet owners to monitor their dog's or cat's diet and keep them at a healthy weight, because there's a plethora of conditions associated with obesity. And I mentioned some of those, including the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease.

So he says that regular veterinary visits are a great way to manage various medical conditions that you might not even know about. And it's also a perfect time to ask for pet care advice or to get an expert opinion on any questions that you may have that are specific to your dog's behavior or needs. This is really important when it comes to your dog's diet.

Talking to your veterinarian about the best diet for your dog — It's really crazy to think about. And you may be one of the pet owners that thinks this way, but a lot of us don't even realize when our pets are overweight. When they get to be obese and they kind of have that nice plump, round belly, it's more obvious. But when your dog is overweight, and he's maybe not by much, maybe by only 10 pounds or so, think about on a dog-level, 10 pounds is a lot of extra weight. Or for your cat, he might only need to lose 5 pounds, but 5 pounds is so much weight for a small cat. So think about that.

And if you have some questions, if you're not sure if your pet is overweight, or if he's at a healthy weight, this goes for underweight, too. There are some pet owners who go by the feeding guidelines on the bag, and maybe that food isn't nutritionally sound for your dog's exercise activity level, or your dog's age, and maybe he's actually underweight.

So talking with your vet is, of course, the best thing that you can do. You get that expert advice. You can get any questions answered. You don't need to make a special appointment. You should be taking your dog to the vet regularly, a couple of times a year for dental cleanings, regular checkups, immunizations, things like that. So just go at your next appointment, talk to your vet. See what they say, and get their advice on how to make changes to your dog's diet that are going to benefit him.

A lot of pet owners believe that they only need to switch their pet's diet as their dog ages. For example, from puppy food to adult food and then to a senior food when they get to that level. But actually your pet's diet may need to change with the seasons. And Dr. Werber told me more about that, because this was something that I hadn't put a lot of thought into either, really we keep our pets active pretty much year round. We do live in Maine, and there's snow in the winter — lots of snow. But we still hike and we have a big area, a piece of land where our home is, so our dogs can spend plenty of time outside. So I hadn't really thought about this, and that's really why I wanted to share it on my podcast this week.

Ten years in the pet industry and a lifetime of pet ownership and I'm still learning new things. So I want to pass those things on to you guys as well, because I know there's other people in the same boat as me out there.

So when we talk about a seasonal diet, Dr Werber says that the most important things to consider when caring for a pet, is their food, of course. That's the biggest thing you can do for your pet, for his overall health and well being.

So you want to make sure you're providing them with the nutrients needed to grow into a healthy strong pet. And that does mean identifying the proper food for your dog's life stage. So for a puppy, you want to look for a food that has the highest nutrient content with added protein and vitamins to provide all that is necessary for their bones, muscles, joints, everything to develop properly. Then, for adults, you should look for a high quality food that provides a 100% complete and balanced nutrition for all ages.

Then we talk about that seasonal diet and for seasonal diet changes, we're heading into the Fall and Winter right now, so you might find yourself spending less time taking part in physical activity. You don't go on two or three daily walks, you take one daily walk. You don't go to the dog park as often. If you have a big piece of land, like we have, there are going to be days where it's snowing, or it's too cold, or whatever the case may be, that you're not spending that time outside.

So that limited activity affects our pets too and can lead to weight gain. I know, for example, we have four cats, and our cats are indoor outdoor cats. In the summers month when it's nice and warm out, we keep a cat door in one of our basement windows. Our windows are ground level, so our cats can come in and out as they please. We keep them in at night time for safety reasons. We don't want predators and things to get them. But during the day they have free range inside and outside. In the winter time, we spend a lot more time indoors. So even if your cat has access to the outdoor, they're probably not going to want to be out there as much in the winter time.

So what this means is, that your pet is eating more calories than he's burning off. So adjusting the food you give your four-legged friend during the changing seasons is important to keeping them at a healthy weight year round. And of course, as I mentioned before, you want to be sure to consult your veterinarian to determine that adjustment.

Don't make that adjustment on your own. If you notice that your dog is gaining some weight, or your cat is gaining some weight you can try to maybe cut his food back a little bit. But you really should speak with your veterinarian, because you want to make sure that you're meeting all the other nutritional guidelines as well. You don't want to cut the calories and cut the protein and the calcium and the fat content that he needs for his body to grow and develop.

So it's a very fine line. It's kind of a tricky balance. So you want to make sure that you're talking to your veterinarian before making any changes in your dog's diet, seasonal changes for sure. But if you're changing his food or trying to feed based on certain health concerns like obesity you want to make sure that you discuss that first.

So, although they are almost over and we're kind of phasing out of summer months. Dr. Werber did share some tips with me for managing your dog's weight in the summer months as well.

And what he says is that for both people and dogs hydration obviously is very key especially during the really hot months. Proper nutrition and overall healthy habits are key to fully enjoying the summer months, and really anytime of the year. But specifically in the summer months it's important to look for a premium dog food with high quality ingredients. He recommends IAMS to his clients, because it offers quality protein and essential vitamins and minerals that help your dog maintain a healthy skin and coat. It's great for energy and digestion and it also promotes healthy vitality. So he recommends that one.

We have some information on IAMS on our website Top Dog Tips as well, if you're looking for some information on that, or of course you can go to the company's website and check that out. But that's the one that he recommends. Every veterinarian is different. They're all going to recommend different things and of course they're going to make their recommendation based on your dog's weight, age, activity level, any underlying health concerns that he may have. But for the average dog, Dr. Werber recommends IAMS.

And of course you want to feed something that's going to give your dog that energy because — in contrast to the winter months — you're probably doing more. He's more active burning more energy in the summer months, so you want to make sure that his muscles, his joints are going to be taken care of with the food, the nutrition that he is eating.

Of course proper hydration is important all year round, but especially so in summer months. If you're taking walks, if it's hot out, if you're going for hikes, things like that, if your dog's just spending more time outside, make sure he has access to fresh clean water.

So, right now, fall is here and we're pretty much done with summer and we're phasing into fall and winter. So we need to focus on managing our pet's weight in winter. And the best tip for that that Dr. Werber says especially during the holidays. Treats are abundant for dogs and humans. We all hear about people who get off of their diet during the holiday times during the winter months of November, December, and January and then New Year rolls around and we're all back on our diets. The same can be said for our pets. You have more people in your home. They're sharing some scraps of food or dog treats. Your dog maybe getting gifts from people or from yourself for holidays. So, treats are everywhere.

Don't forget to make sure that your dog has a chance to go outside and exercise regularly, burn off those extra calories, expel some of the pent-up energy. That's really important in the winter months. And also control the treats. I know for us we do our family meals in our home. So we have lots of people that come over for different holidays and things like that, activities around the holiday seasons and we make it clear. Actually, our family that comes over now they all know the drill.

But when new people come to our house, we make that the rule, please don't feed the dogs. I'm not going to say that our dogs don't get any treats because somebody sneaks when we're not looking. But it definitely cuts down. Most people are very respectful of that and they understand that even though our beagle Molly has the cutest little face in the world and she will definitely turn on the charm when she thinks she's going to get a treat. We just ask, please don't feed them. It's bad for their health. We're really watching their weight and we would appreciate if you didn't give them any extra treats.

My grandfather, on a little side track here. My grandparents lost their dog a couple of years ago and they are now in their 80s and they've just decided that pets are little bit too much for them now. It's too much to take them outside all the time and be responsible for a pet. They travel frequently as well. So they just decided it wasn't a good fit for them to adopt another dog into their family, but they still enjoy being around dogs and visiting and such. So my grandfather just can't help but feed our dogs when he's here and instead he will give them a couple of treats and then he'll take them outside, and they love to play fetch. So he'll take them outside and throw the ball for them for 5 or 10 minutes just to burn off calories, so it kind of counter-balances it.

So you can always tell people that, too. If you can't help feeding them a treat, just help us burn it off. Get them outside. Give them some extra playtime while you're here. So there's ways to manage it, but focus on that. And I think that's a great tip from Dr. Werber, something that we don't think about a lot is those extra treats that are really abundant at this time of year. So keep that in mind.

A lot of pet owners choose a food for their pet that is based on price alone, as well. And so we're talking about treats and overfeeding and things like that and managing your dog's weight. But his day-to-day diet, you don't want to choose something simply based on price. You want to choose a high-quality diet; something that's going to provide him the nutrients that he needs. And like I mentioned, some of those include protein, calcium, the vitamins and minerals that are required for healthy growth and development. Fat — there is a proper amount of fat that our pets need in their diet, so you want make sure that that's not too high or too low.

So I asked Dr Werber about any specific diets that he would recommend. And he told me that your pet's diet is key to keeping them healthy, which we know. We all understand that, but sometimes that more expensive diet is less appealing because of the price. So he says you want to look for a food that includes a mix of high-quality ingredients that serve a purpose in your dog's overall health. You don't want the artificial ingredients, all of the fillers, that don't serve a purpose, they're simply passing through your dog's body and creating more waste. They are completely useless for his growth and development.

So again, he recommends IAMS because it offers the quality protein, a mix of wholesome grains, and essential vitamins and minerals. But IAMS isn't the only one out there. There are others. Talk to your vet. Look for one. A diet, if you're going to feed commercial or even if you're doing homemade or raw, whatever diet you're feeding your dog, it needs to meet all of those nutritional needs — essential vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats.

You're going to see a visible difference in three areas, according to Dr. Werber, when you're feeding your dog a balanced diet. And those are the skin and coat. You're going to notice a healthier skin and coat, a shinier-ness, a more vibrant coat. The skin won't be dry or itchy. It's going to be a nice and moisturized. The oils are going to be disbursed throughout the skin and coat. The other two are digestion and energy level. Everything that your dog needs is going to be properly digested. He's not going to be having the fillers and the additives that are going to, maybe, causing an upset stomach, some additional gas or bloating, anything like that. And then, of course, energy levels. You're going to notice a difference in that, because your dog is getting the energy that he needs. So he's not going to feel sluggish and tired. It's just like you. If you eat a diet that's full of processed foods and sugars, you're going to feel much more sluggish with a lack of energy. If you're eating fruits and vegetables and proteins and things that your body can use for good healthy energy, you're going to be more active and you're going to feel a lot better. So the same goes for your dog.

So if you notice these things — sluggishness, lethargy, poor digestion, if you're noticing an upset stomach, if you notice gas, bloating, diarrhea, if you're noticing an unhealthy skin and coat, dry skin, itchy skin, a dull coat — these are all signs that your dog's not getting the nutrition that he needs.

So those are the three areas to really focus on: number one – skin and coat, number two – digestion, and number three – his energy level.

So when shopping for a commercial pet food, what should owners stay away from? Dr. Gerber says that you may prefer, say for example, a vegetarian diet. But your pet is going to be best fed if he's an omnivore. So dogs tend to have a simple stomach and short intestines that are ideal for digesting animal protein and animal fat. So it's best to choose a food that includes an animal-based protein source like chicken, lamb, fish, or egg as the first ingredient. And you're not looking for chicken meal or beef meal. You're looking for that number one ingredient is fresh de-boned chicken. It's fresh de-boned beef. Whatever the case may be, whatever that protein source is. That's the number one ingredient, and that is something that is so important. Yes. It's a higher quality ingredient, so it's going to increase the price of that which, like we talked about, price isn't the only thing that you should be thinking about. So it is going to be a little bit higher priced, but it's going to offer your dog so much more nutrients in the long run, so price isn't always what you should be looking for.

And finally, I spoke with Dr. Werber — or I should say I emailed with Dr. Werber — about some of the must-have things that pet owners should be looking for when shopping for a commercial diet for their dog or cat. And he says that, when shopping the shelves, you want to look for products that have high-quality protein coming from animal sources, like chicken, beef, eggs, versus products that use a low-quality protein source, like soy. So stay away from the soy products. Like I said, look for that first ingredient as an animal-based protein. Healthy foods also include ingredients like vitamins and minerals to help maintain a soft and shiny coat, and a mix of wholesome grains, natural pre-biotics, and antioxidants. Pre-biotics are great for digestion, antioxidants are great for immunity, so you want to look for those additions as well.

I really appreciated Dr. Werber sharing his tips for us for looking for a great dog food and as well as talking to me about how seasons can affect your dog's appetite, and that's something again like I said, I never really took in to consideration. So I was excited to talk to him about that and share that information with you guys.

If you all have any questions, please be sure to ask them. Don't be shy. You can jump on our website, which is theoryofpets.com, and you can leave your questions there. Either you can record them and I might use them on a future podcast, or you can just send them via email, and I will make sure to get those answered for you.

If you have any other questions that you think I or Dr. Werber could address for you, I would be happy to pass those questions on and get them answered if I can't myself.

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Samantha’s biggest passion in life is spending time with her Boxer dogs. After she rescued her first Boxer in 2004, Samantha fell in love with the breed and has continued to rescue three other Boxers since then. She enjoys hiking and swimming with her Boxers, Maddie and Chloe.