Help fat cats and more pudgy veterinary patients


Q&A: How do I broach a pet's weight problem with veterinary clients.

Q. How do I broach a pet's weight problem with clients?

It's key to avoid prejudging clients or assuming they'll be offended, says Dr. Ernie Ward, owner of Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C. "The conversation isn't about the person, it's about the pet. Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important things we can do to increase longevity and decrease diseases, and pet owners need our direction," he says.

To broach weight problems effectively with clients, Dr. Ward offers these three steps:

1. Be confident. You have to believe that it's an important topic, Dr. Ward says. "To me, it's no different than discussing heartworm preventives or vaccinations. It's a basic topics we should talk about because it has a significant impact on the pet's health," he says.

2. Be knowledgeable. "It's not just good enough to suggest that clients feed a lower-calorie diet, feed less, or exercise their pets more," Dr. Ward says. "Clients deserve specific recommendations. That means specific diets to feed, specific calorie limits, and specific exercises." Clients may unwittingly sabotage their efforts by offering treats, so Dr. Ward says it's also important to prescribe treats that don't interfere with weight-loss goals.

3. Develop a consistent message. This requires training for the whole team so everyone understands the consequences of excess weight. "This way, the recommendations come easier, and clients are less likely to be confused by mixed messages," Dr. Ward says. "This also means we're making recommendations for every patient every time."

He says it's also important to offer diet and exercise advice for younger, healthy-weight pets before they hit middle age and obesity, when it's harder to get pets to lose weight.

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