"But he looks so hungry!"
Of course, it's tough to resist the pleading eyes of a dog or persistent cries of a "hungry" cat. Our desire to please our
pets is at the core of overfeeding. We need to counsel our clients that it's OK to give in to these requests—as long as they
offer a healthy reward.
The first step is to praise demanding dogs or persuasive cats. Owners can pet them, kiss them, hold them, and say how beautiful
the pets are and how much longer they're going to live because the owners aren't giving in to temptation. They can take the
pets to the food bowl and hand them some kibble of low-calorie diet. Or, some dogs will completely forget about that piece
of pie if you take them on a walk instead. Cats may be satisfied with a sample of the food already in the bowl or even an
extra 10 or 20 kibble.
Many times it's not about the food for pets but about friendship. Their social exchanges in the wild include eating as a group
or sharing prey, and they just want to be a part of the experience. When a client simply must give a food treat, he or she
can try vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, carrots, or celery. For cats that wake the family at 2 a.m. to tell them the
food bowl is empty, owners can try offering more frequent but smaller meals, including a meal at bedtime to satisfy a restless
stomach. Share your own stories about trying these tactics, and clients will see you as a collaborator rather than feeling
Don't expound on pounds
When it comes to setting weight loss goals for pets, don't make it about the pounds at first. Too often we limit the discussion
to losing weight when it really should be centered on improving overall health. Focus on increasing activity and decreasing
"Mrs. Floyd, our long-term goal is for Scruffy to lose 20 pounds. For the next month, however, let's forget about losing weight
and concentrate on you two taking that 20-minute walk you mentioned every morning. Also, it'll help if every time you or Scruffy
wants to reach for a doggie treat, you give her a big hug instead. If she still insists, give her a baby carrot and take her
outside for a few minutes." If we initially focus on big, challenging goals, clients may become overwhelmed and abandon the
Next, make sure clients understand that it's OK to forgive themselves when they slip up and give that piece of pie to Scruffy.
We want clients to stick with the plan, not dump it because they relapsed. Instead of saying, "I can't believe I just did
that. I'll never stick to this diet plan," we want them to say, "I goofed. I'll have to be extra diligent to make sure I don't
do that again."
One step back, two steps forward
The ultimate solution is to make healthy eating and physical activity a part of the normal routine. Encourage clients to take
small steps and win seemingly insignificant battles until they've reached a long-term goal.
And remember, even our best clients may fail when it comes to helping their pets shed pounds. Setbacks are a part of a lifelong
commitment and must be handled in a positive manner. Don't blame clients or label them as "noncompliant" for failing to adhere
to your recommendations. Getting upset will increase everyone's frustration and damage the partnership between you and them.
Instead, work with these clients to discover the reasons for their missteps and seek solutions together.
Maybe a client didn't understand your directions the first time. Or maybe he or she encountered unforeseen obstacles or thought
your plan was unrealistic. Regardless of the cause, collaborate with the client, listen to the issues, and work together to
solve problems and develop new strategies.