How to Tell Owners their Pet is Obese
BY RAELENE SCHAFER-EVANS - MAY 14, 2021 - VETERINARY PRACTICE
Approaching the owner of an obese pet
Effectively managing weight in pets is difficult enough, but when owners’ lifestyles, views, habits and compliance rates are added into the mix, success rates can plummet.
Unfortunately, most veterinary professionals approach the “your pet is overweight” conversation in the same way every time, when we know that each individual pet owner (and their pet’s) circumstances can be quite different.
Understanding the pet owner
No two pet owners are the same. Therefore, dealing with pet obesity is far more complex than simply balancing calories in versus calories out (that’s the easy bit). For genuine success, it’s important to identify the root cause of the problem.
Firstly, most owners cannot actually identify what a healthy weight is for their pet. Secondly, most are generally unaware of the serious impact that obesity can have on their pet’s health, quality of life and even lifespan. Moreover, raising these issues will spark a range of reactions. As veterinary healthcare professionals, it is important to understand the nature of possible reactions as they are an important indication of where an owner may be in the weight management journey.
"Is he/ she really overweight? I had no idea, I’m so glad you’ve told me. What can I do?"
This is a great opportunity to offer constructive advice on how you can work with them to get their pet back to a healthy weight.
Lack of interest:
“I’m pretty busy and don’t really have time to talk about that now or to do anything about it at the moment”
In this instance, start by acknowledging and expressing your understanding of how busy they are. Reiterate that you are concerned about the health issues their pet will face if nothing is done about their weight and seek permission to schedule another time to talk to them about it. Perhaps a phone call or tele- health call would be more convenient?
“She’s not overweight, she is really very happy”
Owners may sometimes feel that expressing concerns about their pet weight suggests that they are not looking after their pet adequately.
It is really important that acknowledgement and reassurance are provided first in this instance. Ensure the owner knows you are not insinuating that their pet is unhappy, or not being looked after, and that you know how much they care for them. However, given you both want to ensure their pet stays happy and healthy, asking their permission to discuss the impact obesity can have on a pet’s life span, for example, can be an effective next step.
“You just don’t like my cat” or “You just want me to come back again!”
When you encounter an angry reaction, remain calm (sometimes easier said than done, but it will help) and don’t take the client’s response personally. In this way, you will have more control over your response.
Acknowledge to the client that you can see they do not like it when you raise these concerns with them.
E.g. “I can see you don’t like it when I bring this up” or “I can see that you find it difficult to hear that your pet is obese and/ or the associated risk factors”.
Reassure them that you know how much they love and care for their pet and that you hope there is a way you can both work together on this. They know their pet best and that you have a specialty in feline/canine weight management, so together you make a great team to ensure their pet’s optimal health.
Tips for positive client communication
- Show concern rather than professional detachment
- “I see that you really love Fifi and you really want to keep her healthy.”
- Be caring – Talk about improving the pet’s health instead of just reducing weight
- “I think we both want what is best for Fifi and her optimal health.”
- Be confident and positive – This empowers owners to also feel confident about managing their pet’s weight
- “Sometimes it will be difficult but I know with our support you will be able to get Fifi to her ideal weight”
- Demonstrate respect for the owner and for their pet
Change can be hard
It can be difficult when change needs to occur or habits need breaking. It is hard for owners to change feeding regimes or stop giving treats to their pets. In fact, assessing an owner’s readiness to establish new regimes and behaviours is key to a successful weight management program and the ultimate goal of getting the pet to a healthy weight. Ultimately, owners must acknowledge their pet’s weight problem and commit to change before success will be possible. Therefore, our initial goal must always be to help owners recognise and acknowledge that their pet even needs to go on a weight management journey.
Rae Schafer-Evans, Cert VN, Acc Delta Trainer, Cert IV Bus, Professional Engagement Executive, Hill’s Pet Nutrition Australia
Rae started her working life as a Veterinary Nurse and worked in Small Animal practice. She has had various roles whilst employed with Hill’s and has always had a passion for behaviour. Rae’s passion is not only pets but veterinary nurses, she has developed the Hill’s National Veterinary Nurse Program and coordinates Hill’s Australia vet nurse CE programmes both online and offline with many being replicated throughout Hill’s globally. She is currently working with industry partners to encourage more nurses into the consult room to enhance client and patient care, vet nurse job satisfaction and to free up the veterinarian’s time.