It starts with you
If we truly believe that maintaining an ideal weight will improve patients' quality of life and life expectancy, we'll naturally
be more enthusiastic about the topic. So each of us needs to understand the link between obesity and conditions such as type
2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, hypertension, heart disease, and cancer. We must understand how weight-associated morbidity in
pets affects the pet-family bond and how this can decrease the level of care pets receive as they age. We need to look for
simple lifestyle changes that can improve pets' health. We must feel comfortable looking clients in the eye and confidently
discussing weight-loss strategies in a nonthreatening manner. If we believe, clients will see our passion and be more inclined
to listen and believe in us when we tell them obesity is a serious issue.
Because of the social stigma attached to being overweight, many doctors avoid the topic altogether. Further, a few high-profile
cases involving people suing physicians for offending them while discussing their weight has heightened doctors' worries about
addressing weight issues proactively. But as veterinarians, our responsibility is to the pet—regardless of the client's weight.
With this in mind, we can learn to separate a client's obesity from discussions of his or her pet's health.
Communication tip: Talking as a team
How to begin
The client usually knows the pet is overweight or obese yet may not fully understand how much that can hurt the pet. Instead
of stating the obvious ("Did you know Fluffy is obese?"), try saying, "I'm concerned about Fluffy's weight because it may
be causing health problems for her. Do you think her weight is causing health problems?"
If you get a noncommittal or uninterested response, don't start detailing how diet and exercise can help Fluffy achieve an
ideal weight. Instead, focus on the long-term health risks associated with Fluffy's excess weight. "I know how much you care
about Fluffy, and that's why I want to help you avoid some serious diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis."
Center the conversation on disease prevention instead of the latest diet tool.
Show your support
Admit that weight loss is a challenge for everyone, including doctors. If you understand the difficulties firsthand, share
your own struggles and you'll gain your clients' trust.
Clients also respond more favorably to your recommendations if they feel understood. These strategies can help you communicate
Use nonverbal cues. Make eye contact, nod in agreement, and lean toward the client to convey interest in what he or she is saying.
Frame the client's statements to demonstrate that you understand: "Let me see if I have this right. Fluffy began gaining weight after a new neighbor moved
in next door."
Reflect the emotional tone of client statements to show that you empathize: "Yes, I know how frustrating this can be."
Involve the client as a partner in the care of the pet: "Is there anything I left out?" or "Does that sound right to you?"