Get clients on board
The key here is to match the treatment plan to the particular client's preferences, abilities, and readiness for change. In
contrast, the traditional approach is often too directive. We tell clients what they need to do, and they should do it because
we say so.
Communication tip: If youre overweight
Today's clients no longer accept everything a veterinarian says as valid without a challenge. It's not that they're looking
for an adversarial relationship; it's that they want to be involved. We should encourage clients to discuss their lifestyle
patterns (what, how much, when, and where they feed and exercise their pets), why they think it's important for their pet
to lose weight, what signs of improvement they expect and in what time frame, and what challenges they foresee. By actively
partnering with clients, we're letting them help us tailor a treatment plan that's more likely to succeed.
No doing without understanding
Now, this is probably obvious. But even if the client agrees that the pet needs to lose weight, he or she needs to understand
how to achieve that goal or it won't happen. And you can't just ask, "Do you understand?" Everyone nods blankly in agreement
when they hear that question, because the last thing they want is to hear your lecture again.
Instead, try using the "teach back" method. After you explain how much and how frequently you want the client to feed the
pet, ask, "Would you mind explaining that feeding plan to me so I can make sure I didn't leave anything out?" This technique
also works well when you give pet owners directions for medications and follow-up care that clients handle at home on their
With all of your conversations, it's important not to end the discussion at the food bowl. Diet is one of the most important
factors, and arguably the easiest to talk about, but it's not the cure. High-calorie treats and inactivity contribute greatly
to obesity. Our pets are becoming a nation of lap potatoes.
We need to expand our arsenal of tools to reverse this trend. And clients will respond better if they can see just how much
they're overfeeding and under-exercising their pets. I've had good luck asking pet owners to keep a food and activity diary.
Ask the client to record every feeding (including food type and amount), treat (including the occasional table goodie), and
activity (such as walking or playing fetch) for one week. Make it easy by offering them an online form or a prepared written
log. (See "Related Links" below.)
Once you have this data, you can customize a weight loss plan that fits the client's lifestyle. For example, if a client works
until 8 in the evening and has two kids, it may be unrealistic to advise him or her to take an overweight dog for a 30-minute
brisk walk daily. This client needs to be reassured that it's OK to exercise as time permits and substitute carrots or celery
as doggie treats.
When you establish rapport and a shared sense of responsibility, a client may open up and offer possible solutions, too. Maybe
she'll say she can take Gracie to her son's soccer practice and throw a ball for her. Once clients understand how an extra
50-calorie treat given at bedtime is adding up to five or six pounds of weight gain per year—and that simple physical activities
really make a difference—they'll often change their habits.