A client communication tip from the 2021 AAHA Nutrition and Weight Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats

When discussing an overweight patient, avoid words like “chonk.”

You won’t find that particular tip in the 2021 AAHA Nutrition and Weight Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats—not in so many words, anyway; but guidelines’ committee chair Martha Cline, DVM, DACVN, said that’s the gist of it.

A veterinarian at AAHA-accredited Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, Cline says she sees a lot of overweight pets.

With new data showing an alarming 108% increase in dogs diagnosed as overweight or obese over the past 10 years—and cats seeing a 114% jump during the same period—Cline told NEWStat that having a conversation about overweight pets can be triggering for owners. Emerging research indicates that the specific language we use with clients has a big impact. 

“I try to avoid words like ‘chonk’ when discussing an overweight patient,” Cline said, “or even the word ‘fat,’ because some owners are very sensitive to that.”

Cline said the new guidelines include tools and discussions to help you start those difficult conversations. The most important tip: “Do it in a nonjudgmental way.”

So, no references to chonk.

“We're dealing with clients who have made an unconventional diet choice,” Cline points out. “Most of these clients have made that choice because they believe it’s in the best interests of their pets. And as veterinarians, we also have their pets’ best interest in mind.”

She suggests initiating difficult conversations by establishing a common goal—in this case, the pets’ optimum health. “Having that shared goal and being able to communicate it is a great way to start having open conversations with clients,” Cline said.

The 2021 AAHA Nutrition and Weight Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats combine aspects of both the 2010 AAHA Nutritional Assessment Guidelines for Dogs and Cats and the 2014 AAHA Weight Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats, with additional updates to include other important topics necessary for a truly comprehensive approach to dietary management in primary-care companion-animal practice.

These include step-by-step methods for performing a complete nutritional assessment and preparing an individualized nutritional plan, as well as communication tips that promote optimal adherence to the dietary recommendations.

The hands-on tools provided in the guidelines help your team to:

  • Perform a complete nutritional assessment
  • Create individualized nutritional recommendations
  • Navigate the emotional connections around pet food recommendations
  • Leverage the value of proper nutrition using a team approach

Guidelines contributor Kara Burns, MS, MEd, LVT, VTS (Nutrition), talked to NEWStat about the guidelines’ nutritional aspects.

“Integrating nutritional management as a vital part of the practice’s culture requires the commitment and engagement of the entire veterinary team,” said Burns, founder and president of the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians.

“AAHA hospitals which incorporate a unified approach to implementing an effective nutrition program will promote optimal pet health, therapeutic success, a strong veterinarian- and veterinary team-client-pet relationship, and a long-term client association with the practice.”

Burns said the guidelines can help you do that.

“We covered a lot of material in these guidelines,” Cline added.  “I'm actually shocked  we were able to get in everything that we wanted to get in there.” 

The guidelines are packed with valuable information—just don’t call them chonky.

Learn more about the 2021 AAHA Nutrition and Weight ManagementGuidelines for Dogs and Cats at aaha.org/nutrition.