Hey, that was awkward: Dealing with obese pets (but mostly their owners)


Hey, that was awkward: Dealing with obese pets (but mostly their owners)

We all know it—weight is personal. It's often an emotional trigger for clients. Avoid the awkwardness and promote healthier lifestyles for pets and owners using these 4 tips.
Mar 09, 2016
By dvm360.com staff

Want to get awkward in the exam room? Tell a client her pet is fat. It’s like saying a friend’s baby is ugly. And, just like a proud new parent, 9 out of 10 owners of overweight pets just don’t see it. So, let’s be real. This isn’t just about pets’ weight, is it? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about every third client you see is likely to be overweight or obese. And when you tell someone their pet is overweight, you might as well be rubbing their own weight problem in their face. Weight is personal. Yet when it comes to a pet’s health, veterinarians are obligated to deliver the blow.

4 things to consider the next time you've got an obese pet and the owner in your exam room:

1. This is an intervention.
OK, so not as dramatic as reality TV, but perhaps just as uncomfortable. Establishing an appropriate dietary therapy regimen involves two important goals: The plan must be tailored to the individual animal, and caloric restriction must occur without concurrent protein starvation to prevent a loss of lean muscle tissue during weight loss. The ultimate weight loss goal should be based on the pet, the family’s situation and goals, and the entire family’s—including the pet’s—ability to reach the goal.


2. Take things slow.
It’s important to start an exercise program slowly and gradually increase the duration and intensity of the exercise. In some cases, exercise may be impossible because of preexisting conditions in the pet or because of the owners’ inability to exercise. The parallel problem of excess weight in pets and their owners represents a unique opportunity to target weight loss and increase activity in both groups. Suggest low-impact walking, chasing a ball, tossing a Frisbee, swimming or using an underwater treadmill and socializing at a dog park.

3. Drugs aren’t (always) the answer.
All pharmacologic weight-management aids should be considered short-term interventions, may have significant side effects and may be contraindicated in some patients. Only one drug, dirlotapide (Slentrol—Zoetis), is FDA-approved for weight loss in dogs. Weight loss will most likely be temporary if owner behaviors are not concurrently modified to promote a more healthful lifestyle. Explain that treats are similar to snacking between meals for people, and when giving treats is a well-established habit, it may require consciously and permanently adjusting what role treats play in the relationship (i.e. owners should consider bonding with their pets via a physical activity rather than through giving treats).

4. It’s a shared responsibility, y’all.
Adherence is crucial for the success of any weight-loss plan. A pet’s family is responsible for feeding the correct amount of food and treats, weighing the pet regularly, following through on adjustments, exercising the pet and controlling the dog’s access to unmonitored food sources. The family must be committed to the weight-loss program for several months. A pet’s family members must understand how long the weight-loss plan may take, and they should be encouraged to focus on the progress rather than on a quantitative end goal.Source: 2014 National Pet Obesity Prevalence Survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, Centers for Disease Control

If weight feels intensely personal, food is just as big of a deal. Many pets become overweight or obese because of the social bonding that occurs with owners during feeding. This human-animal-bond activity adds a strong behavioral component to the development of obesity. Food is such an important part of daily culture that it is critically important to recognize how owners view food. (We’re getting deep here!)

—These weight loss nuggets are from Christopher G. Byers, DVM, DACVECC, DACVIM, and colleagues. Here he delves much deeper into treating excess weight in pets with a multiple-modality approach.

It is awkward

As a young and healthy looking veterinarian I am constantly encountering questions regarding my age and how long I have been practicing. I use every communication tool in the book to show my compassion and concern for the pet's health- but when it comes to discussing over weight patients- it sometimes is awkward. I have no problem rattling off the reasons, and the proof that the pet needs to loose weight, also using objective measuring such as the Hills Healthy Weight- which in many cases does help open the clients eyes as to how overweight the pet is, but there are many clients that feel insecure about the topic of weight loss and I think that they are generally offended due to the way I look. They often will say things like "well I need to loose a few pounds myself" or "we both love food" -which I respond that my concern is only for the pets health and direct the conversation back to the pet- SO MANY TIMES the owner becomes so focused on themselves that they can't redirect to the pet and it becomes frustrating. I would love everyone to be healthy and outside of work I do volunteer to help both people and animals develop healthy life styles, but when I am at work, I am your pets doctor, and I have specific advice for you about your pet, please focus on your pet. Anyone have advice on handling this issue with clients that are so insecure about their weight that they have trouble focusing back on the pet?

Awkard? It shouldn't be

I keep reading these articles how awkward, how embarrassing, how uncomfortable it is to talk to owners about their pets being overweight. I maybe have a 0.5% negative response when discussing this with my owners but then I'm overweight myself and I know and am sympathetic to the struggle. I have had Dr visits myself over the years that were super helpful and positive and ones where I could tell the Dr had never been overweight a day in their lives and believes overweight equals lazy undisciplined sugar eating ignoramous. Check your prejudices at the door. If you're not judging the overweight owners and perceiving discomfort where their shouldn't be any I think you will have better success. It's a health issue not a social issue. Acknowledge that some animals/people struggle more than others and provide positive steps to take to make the animal healthier. We give out Science Diet measuring cups and recommend green beans or roasted sweet potato and a replacement for part of the more calorie dense dog food. And I always say if someone had total control over MY diet I would want them to help me be as healthy as I could be