How to Ward Off Holiday Weight Gain in Pets

Dog begging for food

We’re in the final stretch of that terrible trifecta of weight gain: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. The 39 days in between these holidays offer a multitude of meals for your family to gorge upon. The trouble is that we also share these food celebrations with our pets, resulting in the accumulation of unwanted poundsfor all of us.

By the time the last bit of confetti has fallen, many of us are in desperate need of a fresh start — and a diet. So what's an animal lover to do? How can we share the holidays with our pets in a more healthful manner?

The good news is that, with a little planning, we can party with our pets without feeding them unhealthy and fattening foods. Here are some cardinal tips for keeping your pets in fightingshape this holiday season.

1. Obey People Food Rules

Let's get one thing clear: I know the majority of you are going to feed your pets from the table. Guess what? Me, too. Perhaps the biggest myth hoisted upon pet owners is that “people food” is bad for pets.

With very few exceptions — grapes, raisins, some nuts and chocolate come to mind — if you're eating healthy fare, chances are that you can share some of it with your pet. My no-no’s: anything fried, breaded, glazed or enhanced with extra fat and goodness, as well as bread, fatty meats and decadent sweets that tend to populate party plates.

Just bear in mind that any sudden change in a pet's diet can cause gastrointestinal upset, such as vomiting and diarrhea. Fatty and rich foods can also lead to pancreatitis.

2. Don’t Supersize Your Pet’s Portion

You don’t need to beat yourself up if you slip Scooter a sliver of salmon. In fact, for the most part, I encourage it. But notice that I said "sliver." This is my second bit of advice: portion control.

Our pets are often one-third to one-tenth our size, so treat accordingly. A one-ounce piece of meat for a 20-pound dog is the same as your entire 10-ounce steak. Sure, that tiny terrier could devour everything on your table, but you'd end up spending your holiday in the animal emergency room. Your choice.

3. Indulge Pets With Select Fare

Rule No. 3 is to choose foods carefully. Skip the butters and sauces. I'd prefer if you indulged your mutt with a mélange of crunchy vegetables, like broccoli, celery, carrots, asparagus and cauliflower.

When it comes to meat, salmon is preferred by most cats and dogs; tuna comes in a close second. Or select lean cuts of ideally free-range or organic beef, turkey and poultry.

And remember to keep the portions small. I often tell clients that, for every 20 pounds of dog, offer thumb-size bites of fish and meat. For cats, a few flakes of fish or half a thumb of meat is plenty. The bottom line: It's not the amount of holiday goodies you give that counts; our pets just want to be part of the fun.

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