Talking to Pet Owners About Obese Pets

Huskies-getting-treatsLast week, we interviewed local veterinarian, Dr. Susan McMillan, for our Clinic of the Month. We focused on her Vet To Pet Mobile Veterinary Service, and after our home visit with one of her clients, she emailed me with some final thoughts. This week, I wanted to share her thoughts about her business in her own words, as well as continue the discussion about the importance of a proper diet for pets (cats in particular). Concerns about obese pets and poor diet have come up in a lot of our discussions with vets, so this week, we wanted to ask vets how they talk about this sensitive subject with clients. First, we’ll hear about how Dr. McMillan started her mobile business, and why it’s a perfect fit for her.

Starting a Mobile Vet Business

After our visit, Dr. McMillan shared some additional thoughts on starting a mobile veterinary business. She does run a physical clinic with her partner in Burlington, Vermont, but currently, she’s focusing on her Vet2Pet mobile business. Susan is also my veterinarian, and I know that at least for me, having a mobile vet fits my needs. Before I had a car, scheduling a home visit was perfect for me, and now that I do have a car, it’s still nice to know that I have the option of a home visit since my cat does not like to travel. I decided to include what Susan wrote to me because she articulates so well what she finds rewarding about the service she provides. This also connects to the discussion about educating pet owners:

I started mobile because it was my own business that I could afford to start on a shoe string, and it is a great service. When I was in Fairbanks, I covered for a friend of mine who had her own mobile practice. I think I took her calls for about 6 weeks and realized it was a great fit. It gives you a chance to spend some time with the owners, not rushed, see where the pets live and who they live with, and there is lots of time to just chat. That gives you the time to get to know people, let them learn to trust you, and then offer a lot of education about good pet husbandry. And you learn a lot! My grandfather and great grandfathers were human doctors. I’ve always been fascinated and appreciative of the skills those guys possessed.

Sure, all the bells and whistles of modern medicine are terrific and lifesaving, but there is a huge skill that one can possess without any technology. That is the ability to listen, take a good history, watch, and do a thorough physical exam. It is old fashioned medicine, but when done properly, you can learn a lot about an animals condition. You can rule things out, and ultimately, save the client a lot of money by choosing any follow up tests very wisely. In the case of the low cost clinic, I can offer my clients some really good information about what might be going on with their pet, without breaking the bank.

So, although some folks probably think that house calls and a low cost clinic might be low tech and/or low quality medicine, it is actually very very challenging and rewarding. It might be low tech, but it is good old fashioned medicine.

Educating Pet Owners About Proper Diet

Cute-huskie-faceWhile the “good old fashioned” medicine may seem low tech to some, it fits the needs of Susan’s clients. There are plenty of local emergency veterinary services for pets in need of urgent care or surgery. The laid back atmosphere of a home visit also provides an opportunity to educate pet owners about overall pet health, which has a lot to do with a proper diet.

We talked a lot about diet in our interview, particularly proper diets for cats. At one point during our discussion, Susan mentioned Dr. Kessler at Affectionately Cats, which is another local clinic and our Clinic of the Month in October. Susan praised Dr. Kessler and talked about how much work Affectionately Cats has done to educate pet owners about the importance of a proper diet. Affectionately Cats is an all-feline clinic, and during our interview with her, Dr. Kessler emphasized wet food over dry food, namely because cats are carnivores. Dogs can handle more dry food in their diet, but feeding cats dry food causes numerous health problems, including obesity, diabetes, and urinary tract infections.

Fat-catNear the end of the discussion, Susan said something we’ve heard from all the vets we have interviewed, which is that they would rather see a cat on a lower quality wet food than a high quality dry food. Part of the education problem can be attributed to the approach taken by many vet schools. Dr. Kessler informed us that at least when she was in veterinary school, they were all pushing dry food, which can also help increase revenue for the clinic. It was only a few years ago, after taking the lead from a clinic in Australia, that she began recommending an all wet food diet for cats. Although Dr. Kessler lost a lot of business by switching patients to wet food, she sees fewer health concerns in her practice, and none of her patients have Type II diabetes, which is typically caused by obesity.

If veterinarians are not properly educated, how can pet owners receive adequate knowledge about the right diet for their pets? After a quick Google search for “talking to pet owners about obese pets,” most of the results were websites based in the UK, which indicates that there’s a lack of awareness in our country about the dangers of a high carb, dry food diet for cats.

Part of the issue may be caused by the sensitivity of discussing weight. Talking about weight concerns is a sensitive topic for human patients, so approaching pet owners about obese pets can be just as much of a challenge for vets as it is for doctors. People are also protective of their pets, making it difficult to get through to some owners. So how do vets discuss this with clients without offending them? Could home visits be part of the answer?

We are interested in your thoughts on this. Whether you are a veterinarian, vet tech, or a pet owner, share your thoughts with us on Facebook.