As the pet's weight displays on the scale the client blurts, "What a piggy!" But the pet on the scale isn't in control of
its own diet—the owners are! And many overweight pets have overweight owners. Telling pet owners who struggle with their own
weight how to watch their pet's diet can put you in a tough spot.
"Fat" is a dirty word
It's obviously not a good idea to use the "F" word. Fat is the underlying problem in its actual physical form, but the real
problem is much deeper. Saying that a pet is fat and needs to lose weight doesn't do anything for the client-patient-provider
relationship except insult it. When you call animals fat, you're attacking their owners too, whether they're overweight or
not. It's the insulting nature of the word in our society that leaves the client embarrassed, accused and demeaned. Would
you allow a client to feel that way for any other reason in your clinic? Of course not!
The key to weight loss conversations is the approach. It should never happen right after the pet steps on or off the scale.
Remember, owners with weight issues may share anxiety about stepping on the scale that may translate to their feelings about
their pet's weight. Plan the conversation for the end of the exam. This will also send the owner home thinking about the pet's
weight, which often results in an immediate change. We often diet the same way—we get into a mood and throw away all the junk
food in the house.
Step out of the blame game
How often have you heard, "Oh, well—my husband feeds him loads of treats" after a dog or cat gets on the scale? Make sure
clients understand the whole household must be involved in helping a pet lose weight. Providing a measuring cup and guidelines
for feeding helps, and a handout with guidelines in large font makes a great refrigerator notice. Try something like, "Dog
on diet. Reduce food to 2/3 cup morning and night."
Remember, a pet's health is our No. 1 priority, but a close second is customer service and care. We can't help a pet lose
weight without a follow-up visit or two, and we won't get that follow-up visit if the pet's owner is insulted. Avoid harsh
words, and make the conversation about the pet's issue alone.
Brent Dickinson is the practice manager at Dickinson-McNeill Veterinary Clinic in Chesterfield, N.J.