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The dietary detective and the case of the choc ice...

by
01 July 2015, at 12:00a.m.

NIKKI CUMBERBEACH begins a new regular column, this month talking about the role of RVNs in tackling the obesity epidemic and how owners often overlook some of the most obvious causes of weight gain

IT is often said that veterinary nurses are a combination of many roles – phlebotomist, anaesthetist, radiographer, etc., but where a pet’s weight is concerned I think we should most definitely add detective and psychiatrist to the mix.

It should be simple – if you feed your pet too much, he or she will put on weight, but in reality the reasons for obesity in pets seem to be more complicated. As with human obesity, the reasons why we overfeed and our animals are prone to weight gain are multi-faceted – the range of foods on offer, the range of advice out there from all quarters, the emotional response from our pets when we treat, our own response to food as a pleasurable pursuit, exercise curtailed by busy lives and busy roads, other family members feeding … the list goes on.

Add to that a defensive attitude to criticism of a loved member of the family, and often an unawareness of what they are actually feeding their pet and you can start to see how tricky the subject can be to broach and then go on to achieve a good outcome.

I know I have certainly registered new clients who have left their other vets because they were told their pet was fat.

That is not to say I haven’t been very plain with clients when talking about their pets’ rotund appearances – we have a duty to inform them of the risk of disease they are subjecting their pets to. However, I think this is better received once we have established they are aware their pet is overweight – it never ceases to amaze me how many clients genuinely think their overweight pet is “just right”.

How you broach the subject can be the difference between having a client receptive to your advice or thinking you are just an interfering busybody who is rude.

Pointing out a trend of weight gain and offering a service to support them in preventing this continuing can be a good starting point.

So we have already used our psychiatrist hat to get the client to agree to attend a weight clinic.

Of course there are also the clients who realise their pets are overweight and come seeking help. These are the easy ones and in my experience not the most common. So what do you do when you have the client in your weight clinic?

Put your detective hat on

This can be where your “detective” hat plays its part. I always ask for the client to bring the food they feed in with them, together with whatever they use to measure it or the bowl they feed it in. This helps you to determine exactly what the pet is being fed. I then weigh the amount of food and compare this to the feeding guide for the food.

If they are obviously overfeeding, it should be a case of starting to reduce the food. However, if you are being told “this is all Pickles has and nothing else” and he is only receiving half the advised amount of food, you can be sure that Pickles is in fact eating something else too.

The tactic I then employ is to chat. It is amazing how much information can be gleaned from a general chinwag about how wonderful having animals in our life can be.

Talking about your own animals and failings with them can also help tempt the owner to share their own indiscretions.

Two examples of this come to mind. The first was a lovely couple who clearly adored their Cavalier King Charles spaniel but were at a loss to explain why she was a hefty 12.5kg. We chatted generally and then I asked how they came to have Holly.

They explained she had come to them from an ill relative and had then been called Lady as she loved “ladies fingers”. These turned out to be sponge fingers that the dog had always had for breakfast.

The second example is a recent challenge: a Labrador (I couldn’t talk about weight without mentioning Labradors!) that had managed to put on a whopping 17kg in a year and is now tipping the scales at 47kg. Again, the dog was only receiving 100g supermarket food twice a day.

We were actually talking about summer coming up when the owner mentioned cooling down and sharing a choc ice with the dog. It transpired that the dog had been eating a box of choc ices a week. I have my second clinic with these clients this week – fingers crossed.