Do I look fat in this? 6 ways to effectively intervene in patient weight issues


A new study looks at how veterinarians can comfortably step in to facilitate weight loss, borrowing from successful human programs to help.

(Getty Images)Overweight dogs and cats at our veterinary practices are a common sight, and we know that weight reduction is desirable for quality and quantity of life. But, of course, the solution is more complex than we want it to be. 

As veterinarians, our focus is our patient. But we can't ignore the pet's environment and behavior. These factors are most impacted by the pet owner. A recent article looks at ways to modify behavior and environment for successful weight loss in pets. It focuses on areas where the owner can influence the success (or failure) of the pet's weight loss and its ability to maintain the weight loss and defines where the veterinarian may be able to help. Here are six ways pet owners can take a more active part in their pets' weight loss and we, the veterinary team, can provide support.

1. Ax the ad libitum 

The way a pet is fed is critical in managing obesity. As show in the article, free feeding has been cited as a risk factor for obesity in cats, but some studies do not support this. Treats and extra foods have also been identified as a risk factor. Since there are no dependable features that apply to every obese pet, the recommendation to use a measured amount of food on a schedule is still a valid part of a weight loss plan.

2. The positive potential of groupthink

When you're formulating your weight loss and maintenance plan, owners should be a part of all of the discussions because the protocol must be easy for them to follow. They must understand the suggestions, as well as how important they are. In homes with multiple pets, separation strategies during feeding can be critical. Every member of the household will need to change his or her behavior and habits. 

3. It's the little things

As the weight management program is implemented, the animals may increase their begging behavior. And because owners know that their pets are being restricted, they can interpret other types of behaviors as requests for food. Suggest limited access to the kitchen area to help firm up their resolve to not give in. Smaller bowls and serving utensils can help both owners and pets feel like the reduction is less dramatic. 

4. You've got to move it, move it

We all know that inactivity increases the risk of obesity. Not only must an exercise program be implemented during the initial diet but also continued after successful weight loss to maintain a healthy body weight.

Owners must understand that their pets need daily exercise; even cats can be trained to walk on a leash during a weight loss program. Recommendations should be tailored to the specific pet and owner. It is important that the owner keep a log of all activity during the weight loss program to maintain accountability.

5. Food glorious food

The veterinarian and pet owner must be aware that the sensory pleasure of eating is another roadblock independent of the other factors. We all know what it is like to want to eat even when we are not hungry. Eating feels good and provides its own reward, so in essence our brains LIKE to eat whether we are hungry or not. Animals also fall prey to this cycle and will beg for food even though they do not physiologically need it.

You can help owners in charge of a weight loss program to avoid this roadblock by suggesting four things:

> Resist temptation. Teach owners to ignore pets that are actively begging. 

> Prevent temptation. Set up situations that promote success for both the owner and pet, such as limiting access to the kitchen. 

> Promote strict commitment. If an owner is unable to commit to the program in the home, an in-patient program might be an option for success. 

> Teach owners to force their own accountability. For example, an owner might make a charitable donation if the pet's weight loss goal is not met by their next visit. 

Implementation is improved when the pet owner is provided with strategies to address problems as they arise. They should know what to do in individual situations, such as how to react when the pet begs or exhibits an inappropriate behavior, like jumping on the counter, to get food. It is important to understand that a weight loss plan will be more successful if the owner understands and is excited about the results of a weight loss plan.

6. Borrow from the power of the people 

The 5 As system, as outlined by Canadian Task Force on Preventive Care, was designed to assist people facing a weight loss goal.1 Because pet owners play a primary role in obesity management for pets, these suggestions still apply.

>> Assess and identify health risks and behavioral risk factors that may hinder weight reduction. 

>> Advise the owner with guidance that is tailored and specific to the pet and explain why it is important. 

>> Agree-make sure the pet owner understands that you are a resource and team member in the journey. 

>> Arrange to schedule referrals and follow-up visits so that the treatment plan can be adjusted as needed. 

Exam room application

The importance of environmental and behavioral factors can't be underestimated. A successful weight loss plan must address all of these factors. Everyone needs to know that it is a slow process, but it is worth the effort. Be sure to allow plenty of time in your schedule for weight loss consultation so that you can cover all of these suggestions and give everyone the best chance of success.


Murphy M. Obesity treatment: environment and behavior modification. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 2016;46:883-898.

Link to abstract:



1. Whitlock EP, Orleans CT, Pender N, et al. Evaluating primary care behavioral counseling interventions: an evidence-based approach. Am J Prev Med 2002;22(4):267-284. 

Related Videos
© 2023 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.