We might think pets have it easy. No calorie counting. No comparing their thighs with supermodels on television or perusing the latest issue of Vogue and wondering how the pouty face on the cover got so thin. Nope. For pets someone measures out their food daily and with just a meow or a faithful wag of the tail, they're adored no matter how rotund they become. What a life!
But the truth is, pets aren't immune to the downsides of plumpness. Just as the average American has grown wider over the years, so have our animal companions. And, just like people, pets reap the rewards of an ever growing backside—arthritis, fatty liver disease, and diabetes, just to name a few. As pets' waistlines—and their risks—continue to expand, you'll be spending more time discussing nutrition and exercise with clients and developing strategies to help portly pets slim down.
Creating an effective weight management program in your practice means discussing nutrition and exercise at every visit. Chances are you're already doing this as part of a comprehensive physical exam and medical history. Most practices already weigh pets and do a body score evaluation during appointments. Building an effective weight management program just means developing strategies to get clients on-board with weight loss.
"The first thing we do when pets visit is weigh them and tell the owner how they're doing," says Gina Toman, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a veterinary assistant at Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C. Using their practice management software, Toman says they can create graphs to track the pet's weight loss or gain. "Then we'll do a body scoring evaluation. We include owners by showing them what we're looking for, explaining how their pets are doing in comparison to their last weight check, and even taking their hands and showing them where they should be able to feel the pet's ribs."
If the pet is overweight, Toman will ask detailed questions about what the pet's eating and exactly how much. How many meals do they eat a day, and how many snacks do they get, including people food? Based on their answers, she helps clients build a plan to take the weight off. The first step: talking to the veterinarian about an appropriate diet. She also often recommends structured mealtimes and exercise, which may include specific instructions—two 30-minute brisk walks a day, for example.
Six fat busters
Sometimes clients feed pets the right amount at mealtimes, but they get carried away with treats. Here are some tips to help owners rein it in between meals.
3 Simple show-and-tells
1. Make treat comparisons owners can understand. For example, Toman says you might explain that each dog biscuit Fido eats is the equivalent of person eating a Snickers bar. Also remind clients that they can break up treats into smaller portions, says Nancy Allen, a Firstline board member and practice manager at Olathe Animal Hospital in Olathe, Kan.
2. Suggest low-calorie alternatives. Depending on the animal and its nutritional requirements, help owners find lower calorie alternatives, such as carrots or broccoli.