DVM as nutritional consultant

DVM as nutritional consultant

Are we addressing our clients' nutritional concerns? Taking a life stages approach helps ensure continuity, longevity
Jun 01, 2004

This obese cat has been gaining weight for three consecutive years. Now weighing 18 pounds he is a medical dilemma. This cat's health is in jeopardy if allowed to continue gaining weight or if started on a strict dieting program without discussing the dangers of lipidosis. As pet health care providers, it is our professional obligation to spend the necessary time educating the client and providing him or her with proper health care recommendations.
Often practitioners comment that owners eventually resemble their pets. But perhaps it is the other way around!

How many times do we go into the exam room and observe a cat that is so obese that its width nearly equals it length! There can be no collar because there is no neck.

As a veterinarian, we are poised to exclaim some profound bit of wisdom about over-feeding and the associated health risks, but we make a quick turnabout as we raise our head and see the obese owner who came along with this obese pet. A new challenge has arisen. How do we speak to this owner without insulting them?

  • An epidemic

Studies on the human side are claiming that approximately 1/3 of all Americans are obese and another 1/3 considered overweight! That comes to an astounding two out of every three clients. Is it any wonder our pets are overweight?

Table 1. Wellness Guidelines for Puppies
And it is not simply for appearance sake, either.

A study recently released by the American Medical Association shows that poor diet and lack of physical activity account for the cause of 6.6 percent of deaths in America. That is second only to tobacco use (18.1 percent) and more than the combined deaths caused by alcohol, microbial agents, toxic agents, car accidents, gun-related deaths, drug usage and sexually transmitted diseases combined!

  • Impacts body systems

While obesity is not the only problem, it is simply the biggest problem and impacts all major body systems.

Pets generally don't feed themselves. It's the owner who feeds the pet, and feeds, and feeds and feeds. Furthermore, pets tend to adopt the lifestyle of the owner. So now we are faced with the challenge of providing counseling for the pet and knowing that it relates to the owner as well!

Table 2. Wellness Guidelines for Adult Dogs
For a long time I was not comfortable making strong recommendations to these owners, unless, of course, the pet's health was seriously at risk. However, the problem of pet obesity is now so large that we cannot sit idly by; we have to take a stand.

  • Counseling needed

We don't have to be nutritional specialists. We already have more knowledge of pet nutrition than 99.9 percent of the pet-owning public, including breeders and pet shop sales clerks. Plus, consider the resources that we practitioners have.

What's needed is counseling. Counseling is the missing ingredient. Pet owners may know that their pet is overweight but are either ignorant of the risks or simply unable to do anything about it.

Look again at the human side. Sixty-seven percent of Americans are either overweight or obese, yet the knowledge is out there. Witness all the books and magazines teeming with weight loss programs, and consider the massive amount of dietary foods that are available. With all that information, still more people are overweight now then ever before.