Weigh in on weight problems

Weigh in on weight problems

Tip the scales in pets' favor with these tips to create a weight-loss program that connects pet owners to your practice and helps pets reach their ideal weight.

When the bulge begins to win the battle against pets at your practice, fight back with a weight-loss program everyone can get behind. Kim Fish, practice manager at Seville Animal Hospital in Seville, Ohio, recommends starting with clients who have a relationship with your practice. "If it's a genuine conversation that you're having with a client, it can go easy," she says. "The words are endless."

Fish, who was a receptionist before she became a manager, says working with clients day in and day out builds rapport. Then it's easier to approach them about their pet's weight. She offers this advice to launch—or relaunch—your practice's weight-loss program:

Start with communication

Boomer, pictured below, is one of Seville Animal Hospital’s weight-loss success stories. He lost about 25 pounds with regular weigh-ins.
Communication between team members is key to a successful program. For example, Fish says if she notices a pet looks a little broad in the beam, she might approach the technician who handles the case and discuss the pet and how to broach the topic with the owner.

Next, use powerful words to speak to clients. Several years ago, Fish says she read an article that shared 21 words that grab your attention. "We use those words every day," she says. "For example, we don't use recommend. Instead, we say need."

Other powerful words include now, proven, money, save, protect, discover, love, and you. For example, you might say, "You mentioned that Buck has trouble getting up these days. Let's protect his joints from further damage and try to get some weight off him."

During team meetings, Fish says she uses a list of advice she's compiled over the years to help educate team members on how to talk to pet owners about the care their pets need. "Make sure everyone's on the same page and knows the products and services you use to encourage weight loss," she says.

Here's some of the advice she shares with her team:

Explain and emphasize the benefits. For example, perhaps weight loss would allow a family's portly pooch to enjoy their favorite pastimes again—whether it's simply being trim enough to jump onto the couch for a cuddle or indulge in long walks together.

Tug at the heartstrings. Share a weight-loss success story and relate how it changed a pet's life.

Use visual aids. Help them visualize the benefits of weight loss with pictures of weight-loss successes.

To launch the program, Fish used Umi, her own recently adopted overweight pet, as an example of a pet's weight-loss journey.
Celebrate successes. "We do it though Facebook, our website, staff testimonials, and patient before-and-after photos," Fish says. They also post on their bulletin board and collect stories in a binder. Fish's next goal is to compile before-and-after weight loss photos and create a photo book to place in the lobby. This way waiting clients can enjoy the success stories of other pet owners.

Use handouts to provide information. Always make sure you're sending clients home with written reinforcements of the topics you discussed.

Use available coupons and rebates. For example, Fish says she's considered creating a frequent shopper card to drive her clients back to her clinic instead of losing the sale to big-box stores or the Internet.

The practice posts weight-loss progress charts, including before-and-after photos, on their bulletin board to inspire pet owners with success stories.
Ask questions and be a good listener. Fish says it's best to avoid questions that require "yes" and "no" answers. Open-ended questions will help you gather more information about the pet's condition. It's also important to practice good body language that shows you're listening by making eye contact and using the client's name.

Use role-play. Fish says the first time you discuss a new topic can be difficult, and practicing using role-play will prepare you and your team members to educate clients more effectively.

Encourage regular weigh-ins. When pets begin a weight-loss program at Seville Animal Hospital, team members take an aerial photo. measure the pet's waist, and put the stats on a bulletin board. Then every 30 days they call the clients and ask them to come in for a courtesy weight check and measurement. "We have pet owners log their pets' results on the bulletin board," Fish says. "This way they get to see their pets' weight loss. If we just say, 'Oh your pet lost two inches,' it's not as real as when they log the changes themselves."

Make follow-up phone calls. "We make sure they don't fall off the wagon," Fish says. "And we set up follow-up calls as soon as they buy the recommended food so they receive a follow-up call 30 days later for a weigh in."

Offer guidance. "At their first weigh-in if they're not seeing weight loss, troubleshoot it," she says. "Don't let pet owners get discouraged. Does the client live with an elderly mother who's feeding too much? Do they have kids who feed pets from the high chair? Maybe they need to bump up their pets' activity level or adjust the feeding schedule."