Vets tackle canine obesity

Rising canine obesity continues to be a growing problem in the United States. A new group called Veterinarians Against Canine Obesity is seeking to effectively combat canine obesity by educating both clients and veterinarians about the serious health risks canine obesity presents.

The group, supported by Pfizer Animal Health, is comprised of a small number of veterinarians from across the country who have been taking canine obesity seriously in their clinics. Formed at the end of 2011, the group is striving to educate both clients and veterinarians about the growing risk of canine obesity.

Ryan Gates, DVM, of Cuyahoga Fall Veterinary Clinic in Ohio, is a member of the group who is working to increase the awareness of the growing health concern.

"Too many in the veterinary community don’t see canine obesity as a health concern," Gates said. "It’s amazing to me how many vets don’t see this as a big concern…I don’t know why veterinarians don’t see this as a big issue."

Gates says many canine issues he sees can be drawn back to obesity. Proper treatment of obesity and awareness of how it affects quality of life can help to prevent health issues later down the road, Gates says.

Tackling obesity ensures that clients receive the best service possible.

"For a lot of these dogs, we can draw this back to the weight issue," Gates said. "Vets don’t want to appear as being judgmental about weight in an exam room, and that’s the message I’m trying to get out there."

Treating obesity before it develops into a bigger issue can save an owner time and money, Gates says.

Many veterinarians may avoid the weight issue when a dog’s owners are also overweight. Not being afraid of having a tough conversation makes for a better scenario for both pet and owner, Gates says.

"Many times, veterinarians have a reluctance to bring up obesity when the owner is overweight," Gates said. "When the owner is overweight, it often inhibits vets from having the conversation they need to have about the dog."

Gates says the key to having a conversation about a dog’s weight is getting over the reluctance to have the weight talk if the owner is overweight as well.

"A lot of times human behavior translates into how we take care of our dogs," Gates said. "I’m not anti-overweight people. I’m anti-fat."

Setting up the scenario of veterinarian, owner and dog versus fat instead of veterinarian versus owner and dog is an important part of having the weight conversation with clients, Gates says. Many times, owners may feel as if the veterinarian is attacking or criticizing their dog for being overweight; Gates says keeping judgment out of his conversations with clients is vital to proper communication.

"I take it real seriously in my exam room," Gates said. "I’m not interested in being judgmental with my clients at all. Once owners realize that, it’s amazing how many owners, even those that are overweight themselves, get on board with treating obesity."

Sometimes, dogs with overweight owners end up tag teaming with their pets in the weight loss battle.

"Those people are in a unique position to know how their dogs are really feeling," Gates said. "They know what it’s like to feel a loss of energy or any other symptoms that their pets might feel."

Starting an exam with the positive aspects of the dog is always a good idea, Gates says.

"When I’m performing my physical exams, I always start with the positive. I like to review the dog’s history, and use terms like ‘the weight is not a real good trend’. I make it objective, instead of name-calling or judgmental," Gates explains. "Then, I get to the areas where I’m concerned, and that’s where I bring up the weight issue. I’ll say something like ‘Charlie’s weighing more than he should, and it’s starting to concern me.’"

Gates says he doesn’t use terms like "your dog is fat" or even "your dog is obese". Rather, he starts with more politically correct terms such as "your dog is carrying a few more pounds".

Extra pounds can be concerning from a variety of different aspects, ranging from joint and liver problems to grooming issues. Putting weight in terms like quality of life, energy and stamina rather than focusing on pounds is a good approach to having the weight loss talk, Gates says.

"My conversations all focus on the quality of life," Gates said. "The quantity of life isn’t important, it’s the quality that really matters."

Though Gates says he used to dread going into the exam room with an obese dog, he says hes now excited to go in the room to see how he can help them.
"It’s something I believe in," he said. "When you see good results, it motivates you for the next time."