Tips for discussing weight management with pet owners

Karen Shenoy, DVM, US chief veterinary officer at Hill’s Pet Nutrition, spoke about weight management, in an interview with dvm360 at the 2024 Veterinary Meeting & Expo (VMX) in Orlando, Florida. In this segment, she provides advice for veterinarians about discussing a pet’s weight with clients and addressing a case of obesity with animal owners.

The following is a transcript of the video.

Karen Shenoy, DVM: When veterinary professionals are talking to pet parents about their pets, there are 3 general things that I would have them consider. One is how you can have the conversation in as proactive a manner as possible. So that would first mean that as soon as the pet is starting to show any signs of weight gain that you’re having that conversation early before it’s to the point of the pet being completely obese. That’s really in the best interest of the pet’s health anyway, and it’s just going to be easier to scale back and focus on eating the right food in the right amounts and things early on, before you have a real serious problem. Even better, you’re having the weight conversation when the animal is a puppy or a kitten, when they’re first acquired, before they’re even overweight. [You’re] talking about what to look for, how much to feed, and kind of heading off any of those issues with the pet being overweight before they even occur.

The second thing I would say is that we all know people show love through food. We do it with our human families, and we do it with our pets. And so, making sure that you recognize that behavior and that desire, and work into the feeding plan the fact that people are going to want to continue some degree of behavior showing their pets love. So that could be things like incorporating a feeding regimen that includes, maybe, both dry and canned food and an appropriate amount so they can kind of top dress with some canned food that’s still healthy and nutritious and helping with the weight loss but is something they enjoy feeding their pet. You can work in some treats or feeding some of the kibble as treats. [There are] lots of different tricks that help them continue to show love to their pet throughout the day, but in a healthy manner.

The third point that I would then make is that it’s important to normalize the weight conversation. It’s easy for a pet parent to feel judged and we just need to kind of have a candid but very kind conversation with pet parents. And we know that only 1 in 3 pet parents actually recognize that their pet is overweight. So, the first part is kind of helping them to truly recognize the concerns with their animal. And you know, as you do that, again, keep it very positive. It’s okay to give some examples of other patients or maybe a situation you yourself were managing [such as] one of the weight issues with one of your own pets, helping normalize it and just having them feel like it’s okay and it’s not an uncommon problem, but that you’re there to help is very important.

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