By DR. PATTY KHULY, VMD
As if it’s not already tough enough to discuss weight loss, veterinarians get treated to a range of excuses for why their pets are tipping the scales. Broaching the "o" subject is itself an adventure, one which is commonly met with defensive postures, nervous laughs or just plain disdain.
At the outset of any conversation on the subject of extreme body mass and its ills, with fat pet as Exhibit A, I can already see my clients’ shoulders set in the universal symbol for "back up, girlfriend!"
That’s when I advance a few mollifying statements that have been carefully crafted to set them at ease, something like:
She’s so gorgeously cute and she looks really healthy on the outside. I can understand why you love having her this sweet and plump, but let’s talk about what it means for her long-term health and comfort.
When what I really want to say is:
Wow! Miss Fatty’s blown up like a tick! At this rate, you really think those toothpick limbs can hold her up for ten more years?
Despite my mild lack of candor, what I’m really trying to do is get owners past playing the blame game. It’s my job to get the animal healthy, not to tussle with the owner over who’s at fault for making their pet so fat.
And yet for all my concessions to their human feelings, I might as well be pulling teeth for all the stress it takes to get my clients to view the situation objectively and be open to discussing the root of the problem dispassionately so we can move on to a solution as quickly as possible.
So you can appreciate what veterinarians are up against. Here are the top ten rejoinders to my appeals for weight loss in pets:
1. But she only eats this much! (Hold your index finger about an inch away from your thumb for visual impact.)
Why is it so hard to understand that weight gain often has little to do with the total quantity of food? Come on, we all learned about calories in versus calories out in grade school, right? If you have to feed two kibbles a day because she sleeps 24/7, then that’s what you have to do. And make her move so she can earn another. (Disclaimer: obese cats require much more conservative weight loss regimens than the "two-kibble" approach.)
2. But he’s always hungry.
Many pets will always act hungry. It’s both learned behavior and instinctual for some. Imagine that your ancestors never knew where their food was coming from. Wouldn’t it be a great adaptation to be able to fill your stomach to the ripping point so you could survive on next to nothing for the next week?
3. But food is the only thing that makes him happy.
Yeah, because there’s something very bizarre about what you consider "happy."
4. She’ll starve.
Really? Let’s conduct an experiment ...
5. I can’t bear to know that she’s suffering from hunger.
I can promise you she’s suffering already. What would you prefer, constant joint pain, or physical comfort at half your "normal" calories?