helping pets avoid holiday pounds – part 1

Posted by Dr. Ernie Ward on Dec 13 2013
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It’s holiday time! The next few weeks are full of family fun, festivities, and food. These weeks will also see many of us pausing healthy eating habits, skipping workouts, and gaining a few extra pounds. We’ll also offer our pets extra goodies, shorten walks – and for many of us – find they’ve added a few inches of fat by the time the New Year is here.

With a little thought and preparation, we can enjoy the holidays with our pets and still ring in the New Year in good health! This week I’ll dish some tips for treating pets from the table:

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Table Food Rules

You know you’re going to…I know it, too. Whenever Rover rests his muzzle on your knee under the table, you’re going to discreetly slip him a slab of turkey, bacon or whatever yummy you can get away with. I’m cool with that as long as you follow a few simple rules:

What to Skip

Most of what we eat is perfectly fine for our dogs and cats. A few notable exceptions include grapes and raisins, macadamia nuts, chocolate, caffeinated foods, sweets with xylitol, garlic and onions.

I’ve got a few other foods you need to avoid: anything fried, breaded, glazed or otherwise enhanced with extra fat and sugar, and any breads, fatty meats and sweets we pile onto our party plates. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has a good list of potentially toxic foods.

What’s Ok

If you’re going to slip a pet some “people food,” I prefer you indulge your mutt with a medley of crunchy vegetables. Broccoli, celery, carrots, asparagus and cauliflower are some of my favorite canine cuisines.

Skip the butters and sauces; dogs will appreciate the simplicity and sophistication of a lightly steamed floret of broccoli adorning their bowl. Go heavy on the raw veggies for dogs; you're only adding nutrition without the unwanted calories.

Most dogs and cats savor salmon; tuna is a close second. If you're insistent on feeding a fatty meal to your human guests, why not pan-sear a small portion of fish for your four-legged revelers? For meat lovers, select lean cuts of beef, turkey or poultry (please select free-range, humanely cared for or organic meats and poultry whenever possible. Thanks in advance.).

Portion Control for Pooches

Perhaps my best advice to avoid weight gain for pets is portion control. Our pets are often one-third to one-tenth our size; treat accordingly. A one-ounce morsel of meat for a twenty-pound dog is the same as your entire 10-ounce steak. I know your tiny terrier could gobble your entire turkey in thirty seconds or less. Then you'd end up spending your holiday in the animal emergency room. Your choice. The bottom line? It's not the amount of holiday goodies you feed that counts; our pets just want to be part of the fun. Small treats equal giant happiness.

Give and Take

If you splurge on wholesome real foods, be sure to reduce your pet’s regular pet food. I don't know that you necessarily need to count calories (get a big gold star if you do!), but you do need to cut back. In many instances, you can skip the commercially-prepared food altogether if you’re feeding a mixture of meat and veggies.

These rules will help you get your holiday season off to a healthy start. Next week I’ll give you tips for keeping pets in shape and holiday snacking safe.

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