Weighing in on obesity: Creating a pet weight loss program for your clinic (Proceedings)

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Weighing in on obesity: Creating a pet weight loss program for your clinic (Proceedings)

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Apr 01, 2008

Presenter's Note: Visit the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention's website ( http://www.PetObesityPrevention.com/) for more information and clinic tools.

We see it every day: fat cats, fat dogs, fatter cats and fatter dogs. The pet obesity epidemic is here and is evidenced by the growing number of portly pets seen in veterinary clinics nationwide. What started out as a trickle has swollen to a rushing river of weight-related disorders such as osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and more. It is vital that today's veterinarians learn to recognize weight related health issues and implement intervention strategies to help our clients better care for their pets and prevent obesity. Further, the discussion of pet obesity may help improve our client's health and well-being by getting them to think about their own weight in the non-threatening context of their pet's condition. By learning how to discuss obesity with our clients and understanding the ramifications even a few "extra" pounds have on a pet's wellness, we will help our pets live longer, more fulfilling lives and, in the process, we may help our clients do the same.

Talking about Obesity with your Clients

The first step toward improving the lives and well-being of the pets we're entrusted to care for and to end this epidemic is to start talking about it. We know that being overweight and obese is bad for pets; why aren't we talking about it?

In a 2004 study published in Obesity Research, 52.6% of obese patients that did not undergo bariatric surgery reported that their primary care physician "never" or only "once in a while" discussed their morbid obesity with them. In other words, unless the obese patient was going to have surgery, their doctor rarely mentioned their weight. One of the key reasons why physicians fail to counsel their patients about obesity may lie in their perceived distrust in the success of available treatments. They see lots of weight loss options and lots of overweight people; the math simply doesn't add up. When confronted with the decision to discuss something you don't really believe works, you're unlikely to discuss it.

It's no different in veterinary medicine. We see lots of overweight and obese pets and lots of diet foods and diet treatments and yet the number of fat pets keeps growing. Subsequently we stop talking about it. Nobody likes to bet on a losing horse – especially one that we believe loses with patient after patient, day after day.

Our clients depend on us for recommendations to improve the quality of life as well as life expectancy of their pets. However, due to busy schedules and lack of training in weight-related disorders, nutrition and weight loss, it is often difficult for veterinarians to communicate this information and promote change. For our profession to truly help our patients, we must take the time to learn about these issues and make the time to talk about them with our clients.

If we're going to talk about pet obesity, we must believe it's important – really important. Veterinarians who understand that achieving and maintaining ideal weight will improve their patient's quality of life and life expectancy are more enthusiastic about the topic. We must study the association between obesity and conditions such as type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, hypertension, heart disease, cancer and more. We must become familiar with the impact that a pet's weight-associated morbidity has on the pet-family bond and how this can negatively influence the level of care a pet receives as they age. We must search for simple lifestyle changes that can make huge improvements in a pet's well-being. We must feel comfortable looking a client in the eye and confidently discussing strategies for losing weight in a non-threatening manner. Once you believe in something, others sense that passion and are more inclined to listen and believe in you.