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'Chiberia' Made Dogs Fat Thanks to Fewer Walks, Veterinarians Say

By Kyla Gardner | April 7, 2014 8:30am
Logan's Weight Loss Story
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DNAinfo/Kyla Gardner

LAKEVIEW — Call them Chiberian husky.

The city's dogs have packed on the pounds in recent months, say local veterinarians, and owners are blaming the weather.

"Every winter, we see [weight gain] to an extent. Now, with this winter, it's significantly worse," said Mike Boling, a doctor at West Loop Veterinary Care. "These owners, I don't blame them. They don't want to go outside and walk their dogs when it's minus-5, minus-10."

This year's winter was one of the worst on record in Chicago. December to March was the coldest four-month period ever, with an average temperature of 22 degrees, and the city saw more than 80 inches of snowfall, according to the National Weather Service.

 Area vets say dogs gained winter weight during "Chiberian" weather conditions.
Doggie Weight Gain
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Frigid temperatures are what kept Buster, an 8-year-old pitbull, from spending much time outdoors, said owner Jennifer Lynch, of Edgewater.

"He’s a short-haired dog, so he doesn’t like to be outside when it’s really cold," Lynch said. "So it was basically just, for most of those subzero days, take him out, poop, pee, and right back inside."

Buster tipped the scales at 81 pounds at a March weigh-in, up from his pre-winter weight of 78. Lynch said she likes him to be around 75 pounds, so the gain was "substantial for him."

A gain of only a few pounds is more significant on a dog than a human, said Drew Sullivan, a vet at the Chicago Center for Veterinary Medicine.

"It doesn’t sound like a lot, but in dogs, it is," he said. "It's 5, 10 percent of body weight. If you're talking a 200-pound person, that’s putting on 10 to 20 pounds."

Lynch has seen some of her own clients put on a few pounds, too — she's a professional dog walker.

"I'm out here all day walking other people's dogs, but my dog stays home," she said, laughing, while walking with five dogs on the North Side recently. "Actually, I hate to put this on someone else, but I'm going to: My boyfriend's home all day with him, so he's the one that’s around giving him treats. I can kind of blame him for it."

Not lowering dogs' food intake during periods of reduced exercise is the mistake most owners make, said Boling, the vet in the West Loop.

"It's not in our culture, whether for our dogs or for ourselves, if we're not exercising, to say, 'Let me cut that piece of pizza in half,'" he said.

Boling and others suggested swapping out treats for vegetables such as carrots or frozen green beans. The healthy snacks fill up the stomach — so owners don't have to deal with a hungry dog begging for food — and can be fun for the dog to chew on.

Buster's doctor, Lindsay Miller, of Uptown Animal Hospital, also suggested doing some extra indoor play with dogs during the winter, like throwing a ball or running stairs.

"Although people kind of focus on winter weight gain, all year round it should be a focus for pets," Miller said. "We tend to say they look kind of cute [when] they're kind of overweight, but just like with us, it can decrease their life expectancy."

Obesity can lead to arthritis, diabetes, high-blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease and cancer in pets, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.

As temperatures begin to rise, Miller advised owners to get outside more frequently, and to take longer walks to shed pounds.

The extra exercise couldn't hurt for humans, either, after brutal Chiberian conditions, noted Ken Goldrick, a veterinarian at Family Pet Hospital in Lincoln Park:

"Because people have also gained some winter weight, I say, 'Let's get out there and take your dogs for a walk.'"