Q&A: Help obese veterinary patients


Q: How can veterinary clients fight their pet's obesity problems?

Q: How can we use positive behavior training to help our clients fight their pets' obesity problems?

The first step is to get rid of the food bowl, says Alicea Schaeffer, BS, RVT, VTS (behavior), president of the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians. Then she tells clients to measure out the pet's calorie allotment for the day and place the food in a training pouch so they can reinforce good behavior throughout the day. She advises pet owners to do at least five minutes of training in the morning and more training throughout the evening, offering food from the treat pouch as rewards.

"This approach splits up the calories for the day, keeping the metabolism higher, instead of one big evening feeding," she says.

Schaeffer admits that sometimes clients resist the idea of ditching the food dish. So she reminds them that they're measuring out the same amount of food they'd feed in the dish, so the pet won't go hungry. And if pet owners have leftover food after the training session, she tells them to put it in a puzzle toy. It takes pets longer to eat, which will make them feel more full.

During morning and evening training sessions, Schaeffer says she suggests a number of activities to help pets build muscles while they enjoy training-based mealtimes. Here's a quick list of activities you can recommend:

  • Practice sit-to-stands.

  • Stand up on their back feet.

  • Teach heel work.

  • Play tug games.

"This is more than just behavior and weight loss," Schaeffer says. "If clients get rid of the food bowl and wear the treat pouch instead, they can reinforce good behaviors as they occur throughout the day."

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