Learn how to approach the difficult discussion of pet weight management with clients
Weight management conversations can be difficult for any health professional to have, and Deborah Linder, DVM, MS, DACVIM (Nutrition), explained that that is usually because there is a lot of emotion attached to this health concern. She stated that especially with pet owners, telling them their pet is overweight can feel personal. “A lot of [clients] cried my office over diet, and I think a lot of it stems down to that [pet owners] want the best for their pet. And this is one part of their pet care they can control. There can be a lot of guilt and a lot of concern and emotion defensiveness because of that,” Linder told attendees at the 2023 Veterinary Meeting & Expo (VMX) in Orlando, Florida. Since this is such a difficult conversation to have with clients, Linder aimed to give veterinary professionals the best tactics and tools to make this situation more positive in her session, “Making nutrition communication appetizing: creative strategies for ‘weighty’ discussions.”1
One suggestion Linder gave includes client education and providing them with information on better nutrition and the health risks obesity can cause. She recommends giving clients the American Animal Hospital Association's Nutrition and Weight Management Guidelines2 which provides written information on a systematic approach to nutritional management of dogs and cats. The guidelines discuss approaches for effective, nonjudgmental communication of dietary recommendations to clients and strategies to increase acceptance of and adherence to veterinary nutrition recommendations.
Linder explained that most of the time overweight pets are not being overfed with just their main food. She said, “In my experience, I have not seen 1 obese pet where foods that were not the main diet didn't account for at least 25%, if not more—commonly close to half of the diet.” This is why it is important that clients write down everything they feed their pets including treats and table food. This way lower calorie treat options can be recommended to the client.
Discussing the health risks associated with obesity or overweight pets can be key in emphasizing the need for a diet change. According to Linder, there is an increased anesthetic risk, as well as medication dosing in general becomes complicated with giving a higher dose due to a higher weight and risking toxicity.
According to a study, “Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs”3 pets who are overweight can potentially have a shorter life span. With 2 groups of Labrador retrievers, the study found that the overweight group lived 2 less years. The results suggested that 25% restriction in food intake increased median life span and delayed the onset of signs of chronic disease in these dogs.3
Linder also explained that being overweight can affect a pet’s overall quality of life. Being heavier decreases mobility, increases pain, and can negatively affect their emotional health.
After having the conversation about weight and diet history, Linder recommends creating a plan for the client. She is sure to stress, “I want to make sure that we're cutting calories but not cutting nutrients,” because it is just as important to maintain a balanced, nutrient-filled diet, as it is to lose weight. For example, maintaining a healthy level of protein is essential to a pet’s diet to avoid deficiency and support lean tissue and make sure they are losing fat, not muscle.
Linder reminded veterinary professionals that, “we all want the same thing for the pet: to really be happy and healthy and live the longest, best life they can.”