Obesity is a real and serious problem facing our pets today. A survey in 2016 by the British Veterinary Association found that over 60% of vets agreed that obesity was the biggest health and welfare concern facing pets. Studies have suggested that up to 59% of dogs and cats are overweight making it one of the most common disorders that pets present with to our practices. It is the most common nutritional disorder and no other single disease has the potential to have so many negative effects and be so common.
As vets we acknowledge the harm that excess weight can do to a pets’ health. We know that pet owners agree. The PDSA Pet Animal Welfare Report 2015 found that 88% of pet owners acknowledge that overweight pets will have a shortened life span and 60% of pet owners believe that overweight pets are less happy than those that are a healthy weight.
Communication is key
Yet tackling weight issues is often in the too tricky pile. Ultimately both the veterinary team and pet owner want to do the best for the pet and while we all rationally know that this is best achieved when the pet is not overweight there still seems to be barriers in place to achieving healthy weights for all our pets.
One of the biggest barriers is communicating the problem. Research undertaken in the human sphere found that the three main themes that came up as barriers for GPs and Practice Nurses raising the topic of weight were:
(1) limited understanding about obesity care,
(2) concern about negative consequences, and
(3) having time and resources to raise a sensitive topic.
One of the biggest barriers was in being able to raise weight in routine consultations – it was easier to raise it when the patient presented with a medical condition and weight was related. These themes are likely to be true in the veterinary consultation. The pet owner -vet relationship is vital and it can seem uncomfortable to raise “a weight” issue with their pet for fear of negatively effecting this relationship. But it is important that we do talk about weight. In the human field it was found that advice from health professionals increased patients’ motivation to lose weight. For the long term health of the pet we need to make sure that we, as a practice team are finding ways to positively and constructively raise weight concerns and promote a healthy weight.
Take a positive approach
Taking a positive one health approach to weight loss with pet owners may help. Emphasising the benefits to their pets and making the experience as positive as possible with a celebration of success. For most pets an increase in exercise can play an important role in any weight loss programme and this can be a real positive for the pet owner.
Starting young is important. Pets that are overweight when they are young are more likely to be overweight when they are older so prevention is essential. Diet plays a major part in a pets’ wellbeing and pet owner education at all stages of a pets life can make a real difference to the pets health and welfare. Raising diet and weight right from the very first puppy consultation could make a real difference for the life of that pet.
So what can the practice do:
- Include weight measurement as a routine part of every interaction with the pet. This allows for a monitoring of the weight and can give an early warning sign of overweight setting in. It also normalises weight measurement with the client and can give them a visual indicator of impending weight increase.
- Devise a practice “weight conversation.” It can be difficult to raise weight concerns with clients and as a team you can decide how as a practice you wish to approach it with clients so that it is a team effort with a positive journey for the client. There are some great resources from veterinary food companies that can help the practice with pets’ weight loss.
- Education. Make sure that all the team understand about the problems of overweight and obese pets and are up to date with any new knowledge or tips and tricks to help pet owners help their pets
- Make time for helping pet owners and their pets. This can be specific clinics or “weight loss clubs.”
- Positivity. Celebrate the successes!
Share the message and build it into your daily routine as a practice. We’ve provided some resources on Design Hub which you can use to encourage pet owners to think about their pet’s health and wellbeing.