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Tips for running weight clinics effectively...

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01 August 2015, at 12:00a.m.

NIKKI CUMBERBEACH continues her series on how veterinary nurses can take the lead with obese patients, using food diaries and weight graphs to help compliance with clients who may not appreciate the importance

FOR those who read last month’s article, my “choc ice” Labrador is still proving to be a challenge – my latest weight clinic saw a tiny 0.2kg weight loss and with more gentle probing it became apparent that this portly Labrador is the proud recipient of a large meaty bone each week. Of course to the owners it is a surprise again that I felt this could be added to his calorie count, as it is after all only a bone…

Veterinary nurses in practice can make a difference to pets’ lives in many ways. The advice we give clients every day can have an effect on almost all aspects of the pet’s life. This can particularly be seen with advice about diet, and the best place for this to start is from when we first see the puppy, kitten or rabbit.

Puppy Parties and Junior Health Checks are great places to start. If owners start by being aware of proper nutrition and training methods then we can help to prevent obesity instead of talking about preventing diabetes, arthritis, heart problems, pancreatitis and so on because of obesity.

I can dream about that utopia where all clients take our advice, feed what we recommend, ignore all external influences and have animals that are an ideal weight…however, I think pet obesity is here to stay. So how do we run a successful weight clinic?

When I first started weight clinics I remember telling the clients they must change their food to a weight reduction diet, and using a funky little calculator I worked out what they should be feeding and for how long – I would send them away and tell them to come back in a few weeks for a weight check and to be honest that was that.

If they lost weight, great; if not I changed the food to another weight reduction diet. Success was hit and miss – mostly I just remember complaints about how dogs were producing more number twos.

Common sense approach

Now I would like to think I have refined my approach. I believe most owners can be suspicious of being immediately sold a particular veterinary diet for weight loss so I firstly try to achieve weight loss with the diet the animal is currently on using a common sense approach, advising weighing out food and the daily amount to be fed at the lower end of the normally rather large feeding guide range.

Often if an animal is being grossly overfed this can work, and educate the client that it was their overfeeding that caused the problem.

Firstly I aim for stopping the trend of weight gain and then try to obtain some weight loss. Taking measurements of the neck, waist and chest can be invaluable as you can then track changes in body shape also.

If an animal has previously lost weight it is possible that fat has been replaced by muscle, which weighs more. This can explain why an animal hasn’t lost weight when a client has been following advice and prevent disillusion.

When treats have been important for either the owner or animal or both, I try to encourage holding back some of the weighed-out daily food allowance and using this instead, and I have had good success with RCW Educ Treats with owners who train with treats.

If using an existing diet doesn’t work then I advise a diet such as RCW Obesity or my favourite diet for weight loss, RCW Satiety (especially good for those Labradors with existing mobility issues).

If an owner is really against changing foods then you can try reducing amounts further and adding a fibre component such as Protexin Profibre. For cats, I do tend to find that to obtain weight loss a veterinary diet such as Satiety is necessary.

Most importantly I encourage owners to continue coming back, initially every two weeks and then when weight loss starts to be achieved, every month.

If they are coming back in you still have an opportunity to change that animal’s life for the better.

I keep a list of my weight clinic clients and make a courtesy call if I haven’t seen them. I also encourage food diaries and give weight graphs and offer family weight clinics as often children and husbands (it’s always the husbands!) are not following the diet and need an external talking to!

When an animal reaches its target weight I then give them a little prize (speak nicely to reps!) and then continue support as they change onto a maintenance diet.

Of course not all your weight clinics are going to be successful and this can be because they already have a disease process ongoing – hypothyroidism for instance; sometimes advising a client that they should see the vet for a blood test is just the incentive they need for their animal to finally lose weight.