There is an epidemic going on. It’s an epidemic of high caloric proportions. Holidays are often a time where food is seen as love and the number of calories being given to our beloved dogs can skyrocket. Unfortunately, holiday calories (yes, even Valentine’s) do count for our pups – as much as we wish they didn’t.

The most recent survey conducted by the Association for the Prevention of Pet Obesity, showed over 50 percent of dogs in the U.S. are either overweight or obese. And unfortunately, based on research conducted through the University of Liverpool, most pet parents of overweight or obese dogs are unaware that their dogs are afflicted.

So why do we care? Shouldn’t our dogs be allowed to be “fat and happy”? We care so greatly because a lifetime study in dogs revealed that being just slightly overweight shortens a dog’s life by approximately TWO YEARS when compared to lean (ideal body weight) dogs. TWO YEARS! And everyone wants more good quality time with their beloved dogs.

So let’s focus on how to love our dogs this holiday season without the calories!

10. Toys, toys, toys!

Who doesn’t want to wake up to a new squeaky toy on Christmas morning? And if your pup is anything like my toy-passionate (OK toy-obsessed) Boston terrier they will get right down to making “improvements” on their toys. Okay, let’s face it, they often turn into saliva-encrusted pelts… but it’s a lot of fun!

Of course, the key is to make sure your pup is supervised while playing with any toys. The last thing anyone wants the day after the holidays is a trip to the veterinary clinic because a piece of a toy was ingested.

9. Comfy sleeping places

New bedding and blankets are a great way to keep your pup comfy during those cold winter months. My dog has more sleeping places around my home than she knows what to do with, but that way I know she can always curl up for a nap beside me (and I’m only slightly envious…). Bedding doesn’t last forever, so the holidays are a great time make some upgrades!

8. Outdoor gear for outdoor adventures

If you live in a colder climate like my pup and I, outdoor gear is a must for winter activities. I live in Ontario, Canada, so my Boston terrier requires a doggie onesie to survive the cold winter months. Yes, literally boots attached to a full body coat (aka doggie onesie). It keeps her warm and keeps the salt and sand out of her paws on our outdoor adventures.

7. Seat belts for car rides

Have a dog that loves care rides? My little Boston terrier rides shotgun (so if you ever need a ride, be prepared to sit in the back). Why not invest in a doggie seat belt to keep your pup safe and secure during car rides?

6. Grooming

No matter the breed, grooming is essential! A new brush, a new set of nail clippers, a gift certificate for a “spa day” with the local groomer, are all ways to help our pups feel their best!

Bear in mind, if your pup has any medical conditions (especially skin conditions) or becomes easily stressed during grooming, be sure to chat with your veterinarians about the best options for you and your pup.

5. Training

Want to teach an old dog new tricks? Have a new pup that is in need of a manners class? Investing in a training program that uses positive reinforcement techniques can be a great way for you and your pet to bond over the upcoming months. And remember that using your dog’s dry food during training sessions is a great way to have your pup work for their meals. And it avoids too many extra calories or an upset stomach from too many treats or people foods!

4. Food puzzles and kibble dispensing toys

One of my favorite sayings that I teach to veterinary students is, “If a dog is working for their current meal, they aren’t begging for their next meal.” Working for meals not only provides mental stimulation, it also makes the meals last longer. This is a great way to ensure the right amount of calories lasts as long as possible, especially if you have a Labrador that can eat their entire meal in 30 seconds (and then starts begging for more)!

I never feed my pup from a bowl (#BanTheBowl). Bowls are only used for water in my house. I have variety of puzzle feeders and kibble dispensing toys that I rotate through so that her three meals a day are always a source of activity. Okay, it’s not just variety, I basically have a pet store worth of different feeders at my house, but it is so much fun to watch her work and figure them out, that I invest in puzzle feeders regularly.

3. A gram scale

Believe it or not, measuring cups (even those designed for pet foods) are incredibly inaccurate. Dr. Alex German, a board-certified small animal internal medicine specialist, and colleagues, conducted a number of studies using measuring cups and published the results in 2010. Accuracy ranged from an 18% under-estimate to an 80% over-estimate in portion size! Yes, over-estimated by up to 80%!!! One more time! Over-estimated by up to 80%!!!

So what’s the solution? A gram scale (aka a digital kitchen scale) is the most accurate way to measure your pup’s food. These scales are inexpensive and can be easily purchased online. This may seem like a daunting transition at first, but it becomes so easy with a little practice. I have a good friend and her 4-year old daughter helps with all the gram scale measurements for their family dogs each morning, so it is definitely a skill that anyone can learn. The key is to measure all the food for the day in the morning and then dole it out over small meals throughout the day.

Work with your veterinary team to determine the number of calories your pup needs each day to maintain a healthy weight. This number of calories can then easily be converted to a number of grams per day. For more information on gram scales, check out my blog on #BanTheCup!

2. Pet insurance

I am a firm believer in pet insurance. As a veterinarian, I never want to have to make a decision for my beloved pup based on money. I always want to make my decisions for her health based on her quality of life. Pet insurance allows me to do just that. Investing in pet insurance or setting up a bank account for your pup for unexpected expenses are great ways ensure you can always provide the best care for your pup.

1. Quality time

Honesty the best way to show your pup just how much you love them is to spend time with them. So curl up on the couch or in front of the fireplace together. Spend a few extra minutes giving a bum scratch or a belly rub. Spending a few quite minutes with your pup could also do wonders for your holiday stress!

So be sure to love your dog this holiday season, just do it without the extra calories!


The Kibble Queen

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial team.


Dr. Jackie Parr (aka the “Kibble Queen”) is a 2009 graduate of the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) and is a board certified veterinary clinical nutritionist. Dr. Parr completed a rotating internship and a residency in clinical nutrition at Angell Animal Medical Centre in Boston, MA. During her internship, Dr. Parr was awarded the Dr. Sharon Drellich Memorial Award for professionalism, collegiality, and compassion. During her four years in Boston, she also completed a Masters in biochemical and molecular nutrition at Tufts University.

Dr. Parr returned to OVC in 2013 to complete her post-doctoral fellowship and spent the majority of her time seeing appointments and consulting on cases for the OVC Health Sciences Centre. She completed her post-doctoral work and became a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition in July 2015. She was awarded the OVC Young Alumnus Award in June 2016 and she is currently adjunct faculty at OVC. Additionally, Dr. Parr is the secretary for the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition. Dr. Parr’s passion is teaching and she has given numerous continuing education lectures at conferences and veterinary schools across Canada. She is a proud Canadian and shares her apartment in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada with two wonderful, loving dogs.