Eating healthy also good for pets during holidays

Published 6:00 am Thursday, December 13, 2007

The holidays can be a time for packing on the pounds. And whilepeople are expected to fill out during the holidays, it is alittle-known fact that household pets will also experienceexpanding waistlines around Christmas time.

Dr. Bob Watson of the Brookhaven Animal Hospital said peopletend to project human qualities on their animals, thinking that ifthey are partaking in holiday feasts, their pets need treats,too.

“We tend to drag them into our same habits, more or less,” hesaid. “For example, we gain weight during holidays since there’s anabundance of snacks, and we think if we’re hungry and in need of asnack, so’s the dog.”

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For humans, controlling their eating over the holidays is simplya matter of willpower, Watson said. But for a dog or cat, it’sabout accessibility.

“We are in 100 percent control of their diet,” he said. “Ifsomeone was in total control of our diets all the time, would we bean obese nation?”

And of course, for a pet to maintain a healthy weight, he shouldbe fed strictly pet food. Watson said another way to pack thepounds on your pet is to stay inside during the holidays.

“There are always a lot of Christmas meats around, turkey andham and such, and even a little of those things aren’t good forpets,” he said. “Couple that with the fact that typically this timeof year you’re indoors more with the animal so the temptation is tofeed them more.”

Watson said pet owners don’t need to be worried they’re cheatingtheir pets out of something good, as pet foods today are much moreadvanced than in past years. He said by eating most pet foods onthe market today, dogs and cats are actually getting a much morebalanced diet than most humans.

“It’s really really true they eat a more balanced diet than wedo, which is something else that’s part of the problem. We aspeople don’t like to eat the same thing every day,” he said. “Wejust assume, and wrongfully so, that neither do the pets.”

Another problem pet owners have is that they let their petstrain them, which is especially bad with the high-density foodsthat tend to fill homes during the Christmas season. Watson said in15 years of veterinary practice, it always amazes him that peopleactually believe their dogs “just won’t eat dog food.”

“I tell them, ‘That’s because he’s smarter than you.’ Peoplethink if he doesn’t eat for a few hours, you need to give himchicken or hamburger, so then he’s effectively trained you,” Watsonsaid. “When you get ready to give the little guy something, he’sthinking, ‘Alpo or hamburger? Alpo or hamburger?’ So he’ll waituntil you give him the hamburger.”

He said dog owners should just realize if they don’t feed theiranimals table scraps, they won’t run into that problem.

“My advice this time of year is the same as it is all year long:put the dog in the back room while you eat,” Watson said. “Youcan’t refuse those big brown eyes and you’ll feed him a little. Puthim back there until you finish eating and then let him out.”

But if you feel your dog needs a snack or a reward, Watson said,dog food is as good a treat as any.

“I never advocate people food, so certainly don’t allow that,and you also certainly want to control their intake,” he said. “Ifyou really want to give them a snack, give them two or threekernels of dog food one by one. Or, most retail stores andcertainly vet clinics have low calorie snacks.”