Why you might need to feed your dog more in winter

June 13, 2016 at 6:00 am
Dog food


I promise you that this article is going to be unlike any other ‘dog food’ article you have ever read (unless you read my regularly J ). I was astounded to find that the common consensuses among the ‘experts’ is that humans will not walk their dogs in winter, so reduce their dog’s food. However, this isn’t how everyone operates.

Changes in dog park walks

People who walk their dogs regularly, walk them all year round, knowing the incredible mental and physical benefits it brings (to dogs and owners). They tend to do similar distances, or more likely, cover less distances in summer because dogs overheat. Even people who only walk their dog in good weather are often compassionate enough to get a dog walker for winter.

People who don’t regularly walk their dogs are more likely to walk their dogs on-lead which consumes far less energy than any off-lead dog park run. So again seasonal changes in energy burnt are relatively low.

As a dog walker I find that most dogs hate high heat summer days and often walk slower and rarely run in summer. Even if they’re walked regularly in summer they will exercise twice to five times the amount in winter for the same time in the park.  More running = more energy burnt = more food.

The winter food affect of inside versus outside dogs

I don’t have any exact statistics for the amount of inside dogs versus the amount of outside dogs, but many people seem the leave their dogs outside when they are not home. Many people who own working dogs or hunting dog breeds say their dogs prefer the backyard. This is fine in the northern parts of Australia, but in the southern states, winter can be very harsh on domestic dogs. In the wild, wolves and wild dogs hunt in packs at night time and sleep together for body warmth during the day.  Domestic dogs don’t have this insulation.

In Australia many homes have one or maybe two dogs. The dogs assume the human habits of mostly being away during the day (particularly if the owner is home) and if they sleep in a dog house outside, they don’t have other dogs to curl up with. There are many reasons why domestic dogs get very cold in winter, and if they do, their energy requirements will be a lot higher than in the summer months.

What type of food do you feed your dog?

Most dog articles I read are based on commercial dog food diets that are full of cheap grains. I have even read ridiculous figures like the ideal dog diet being 65% carbs, 35% meat plus a bunch of vitamins and minerals.  They will talk about a ‘good mix’ of dry and wet (manufactured) dog food as being ideal all year around. The truth is that there is no scientific reason for a dog needing carbs and the same manufacturer information sources rarely mention the need for meat.

Dogs are carnivores who can tolerate grain, but they should have 80% plus animal based food for optimum health. Muscle meat, offal and bones in the right proportion. In one famous article I note that one famous vet said “a lot of dogs are eating diets which are not so nutritious … we must remember that dogs are carnivores and primarily need a good source of protein in their diet.” (Dr Feldman).

The energy value of food is not all you need to know. Some sources suggest in winter its ok to give a dog a lot more fat (and the same amount of kibble). The truth is that the energy (KJ or calorie) value of grains and dry meat are about the same for the same weight. However fat is about 2.5 times the energy level per gram. Dogs can get all their energy requirements from the protein in meat, they don’t need added fat.

The reason you want to feed your dog more meat is the quality and the bio-available nature of the essential amino acids in meat for a carnivore (dog).  Dog fat in the proportion of the meat (usually about 10% for beef and chicken) is fine and important for nutrition, even if it is saturated. Dogs don’t have the same cholesterol issues that humans have.  However, adding extra fat on purpose at the expense of adding meat is essentially adding empty calories – a negative gain.

The difference between dogs and human physiology in winter

It’s true that if you stop all dog walks in winter, and religiously walk your dog in summer, that their summer energy and dog food requirements will be higher in summer.

Amazingly scientific papers written on this are mostly 40 years old or older, but the science is sound.   When humans are confronted by cold, we shut off blood flow to the limbs and protect our core temperature. As mammals this made sense as we could seek out shelter and started wearing ‘clothing’ and animal skins. Dogs don’t have a luxury of added dog clothes in the wild, so their body does the opposite to a humans, it burns more energy to make sure that the limbs are kept warm.

A 1962 journal by Durrer & Hannon looked at Beagle dogs in extreme cool conditions. It showed that for relatively the same exercise over an eight month period, with temperature ranging between +17 C to –22 C showed a variance in food requirement from 80 to 131 kcal/kg/day to maintain the same weight.

While your dogs don’t live in the arctic they will have a desire to eat more food to keep warm.


How much food your dog requires depends on age, sex (if lactating), breed and exercise levels.  As you can see the level of food consumption in winter to maintain the same weight can be greater or lesser depending on if you: reduce walks, leave the dog outside, or even if your house temperature is significantly lower. Monitoring a dog’s weight is vital to its health.  But as always we recommend speaking to your vet first.

BIO:  Bruce Dwyer researches and sources healthy meat based dog treats in Australia for his own dog and others. From an original career in Electronic engineering his analysis and research skills had him well sort after in Corporate Australia until he chose to concentrate on the dog service industry. His company ‘Healthy Dog Treats’ has been in business since 2011 and was based on finding the best dog food natural supplement nutrition for his own dog (Archie the 8 year old spoodle). Archie not only approves of the selections but is featured on many videos on site trialling these ‘treats’.  Understanding that people also enjoy dog treat news and free dog treat coupons he has a weekly email newsletter that can be subscribed on his site.   Bruce is also a professional dog walker and besides his regular blog on his main website his daily dog walk adventure images and videos and dog treat news can be found on these places:

https://www.healthydogtreats.com.au | Facebook: HealthyDogTreatsShop  | Twitter: DogTreatMan |  Google+ HealthydogtreatsAu1