Room to Grow: Diet--a four-letter word


When it's time to talk about a pet's weight with clients, be sensitive.

Sometimes talking about diets with owners can get touchy. These discussions might bring up bad memories of similar conversations with their own doctors, or they might feel like you're accusing them of not taking good care of their pets. What you shouldn't say: "Gee, looks like Fluffy's been pigging out on the kitty treats" or, "Well, Fido here has really packed on some pounds."

Comments like these may seem funny, but they often put owners on the defensive. "You wouldn't say these things to people about their weight," says Debbie Allaben Gair, CVPM, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a consultant with Bridging the Gap in Sparta, Mich. Instead, Gair suggests talking to clients the way they'd like to be talked to. Here's a look at different behavior styles and tips to get through to clients.

  • The direct talker. These clients are always in a hurry. They talk fast, and they don't want lengthy medical explanations or illustrations. They just want to know what the issue is, short and sweet. With these clients, use sentences that answer the "what" question. For example, "Felix is gaining weight, and I'm concerned he could be at risk for diabetes if it continues. Here's what we need to do ..."

  • The fact finder. These clients want every handout and Web site you've got. They talk slower and they show a lot of interest in the problem, the background, and how it came to be an issue today. When speaking to these clients, use statements that answer the "why" question. For example, "Arnie's gained some weight since he visited last. There are a lot of reasons pets gain weight, such as ..."

  • The relationship builder. These clients make a list for everything. They're the ones who want a plan, so use statements that answer the "how" question. Help them make a diet plan, for example, that tells when to feed, when to give a treat, how much to feed, and so on. You might say, "I see that Muffin has gained a bit of weight. Let's create a plan to help."

  • The gregarious client. If you know every detail about a client's children, who her pet's parents were, or what the family is doing for vacation this year, you're working with a gregarious client. These clients thrive on building a personal rapport, so use statements that answer the "who" question. Tell them a story about what worked for your pet, or tell them about another dog's weight loss success to get their attention. For example, "I see Bowser has gained a pound. You know, last year my dog gained 2 pounds, but he's lost it. What worked for my family was ..."

Just remember, when you're trying to ease into a conversation about weight, keep it centered on what's good for the pet. When you tailor your message for the clients in front of you, you improve the chances that they will follow though with all of the care you recommend.

Heather Kirkwood is a freelance writer in Overland Park, Kan. Please send questions or comments to

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