Confronting Pet Obesity

Fat Cats Lead to Big Bucks

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pet obesity

Fat cats visiting your practice?

If you’re like most veterinarians, not a day goes by without a pudgy cat or chubby dog making its way into your clinic.

Sure, you’re taking their weight. You might even comment that Fido’s gained a few pounds since last year. But you’re careful. You don’t want to offend a client. You don’t want to insult their lifestyle or their ability to be a good pet parent.

You don’t want to lose business.

But what if you’re letting good business walk out the door because you’re afraid to broach the subject of obesity?

Garfield May Be Cute, But Pet Obesity Is a Disease

An increasing number of pets carry too much weight. For some time now, the veterinary profession has taken notice. In early 2019, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) reported that 59.5 percent of cats and 55.8 percent of dogs are considered overweight or obese.

But even though it’s a known problem, many practices fall far short of taking advantage of business opportunities (not to mention the ethical imperative to act in patients’ best interests) related to obesity and its related diseases.

“The first thing to recognize is that obesity is a disease,” explains Dr. Ernie Ward, veterinarian and president of APOP. “Veterinarians recognize, diagnose, and treat disease. This is part of being a vet.”

Ward explains that the diagnosis of obesity in a pet starts with confidence and care. The language you use when speaking with a pet owner is important.

“You wouldn’t say ‘You have a cancer cat,’” he says.

Ward explains that patient-first language is crucial. Instead of characterizing a patient as an obese dog or obese cat, use language such as “your dog has obesity” — much like you’d use if diagnosing any other medical condition. Calling a dog or cat obese blames the pet or blames the owner, immediately implying fault or guilt about a pet’s condition.

After identifying a pet’s condition, Ward explains, it is important to link that condition to a consequence. Diabetes in cats is directly related to obesity. Other conditions such as arthritis, kidney failure, and cancer are linked to obesity as well.

Helping clients understand the consequences means that you can avoid the landmines that come with talking weight. It keeps the conversation in the medical, not emotional, territory.

Talk It Out and Make a Plan

Confidence is key, Ward says.

“Keep a success-outcome mindset,” he says. “If you expect the worst, you’ll get the worst.”

Talking with a pet owner about their pet’s weight can be difficult. Sometimes, it comes with bad outcomes. Ward encourages veterinarians to not take it personally if a pet owner doesn’t take the conversation well or doesn’t stick with a recommended program.

“Keep doing your job,” Ward says. “What people are desperate for is that one-on-one connection with a health professional. The ones you win will give you so much satisfaction.”

We live in a world full of information — some bad and some good — which means that as a medical professional, you can provide much-needed answers to pet owners’ questions.

“Pet owners are desperate for someone to give insight to their pet’s condition,” Ward explains.

Offering that insight can mean not only helping a pet with a disease that can lead to other problems, but also increasing revenue for your practice.

After you’ve discussed the problem with the client, create an action plan. By starting with a medical approach in your diagnosis, you can continue with a medical and scientific approach to the problem. Your next step is to conduct blood and urine tests to rule out other conditions that could be causing the weight. Consider genetics and environmental factors as well.

Then, Ward says, talk about how to help the pet lose weight. He always starts with therapeutic weight-loss diets. The biggest mistake, he explains, is that many owners think they can simply feed their pet less food.

“Reducing the amount of food risks malnutrition by caloric restriction,” Ward explains.

Business Booster: Bundle Services

When a pet owner agrees to make changes to help their pet, Ward suggests a bundle approach. Don’t make the mistake of only selling one type of weight-loss food, he says. Offer several different brands within a similar price range. Bundle together a unique diet plan, adding in supplements as well as phone consultations with qualified members of your team to track progress. By starting with a monthly fee that includes food, supplements, and weekly consultations, you can set goals, see the pet on a monthly basis, and offer additional services such as workout sessions at your clinic.

“Don’t think that cost is a barrier to offering rehab services,” Ward says.

He notes that with a few rubber balls, stability platforms, and even a basic treadmill, you can add rehab services to your clinic to help pets stay on track with weight-loss goals.

Think Big to Increase Revenue

Well over half of pets are, at minimum, overweight. You have an ethical duty as a veterinarian to diagnose disease in the patients you treat.

Shift your focus from the emotional discomfort of talking about weight to a confident attitude of helping a patient (and your clinic’s bottom line). Those pets (and those dollars) will walk out the door if you don’t.

“There are so many opportunities with this issue,” Ward explains. “My fear is if we don’t take advantage of this opportunity, someone from outside of our industry will.”

Veterinarians care for the health of animals. Your practice’s livelihood depends on grasping opportunities to provide better care. Determine a starting point — how you can offer one additional service to boost the health of your patients and your bottom line — and grow from there. Your clients are looking for answers; make sure they turn to you as their first resource. Utilize marketing to position yourself as a generator of solutions to problems.

Pet obesity is a big problem with big consequences. Take advantage of the opportunity to boost your business, as well.

“You’re only limited by your imagination,” Ward says. “There’s an entire constellation of treatments and services and products to tackle this problem.”

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