They're the situations you dread. Counseling a teary-eyed, indecisive client on whether euthanasia is the right choice for
an ailing pet. Explaining to an overweight client that his or her pet is obese and needs exercise. Convincing a client that
an aging cat or dog has a few good years yet, even if the furry friend doesn't play much and can't get up and down stairs
anymore. Now, don't feel bad if these conversations are hard for you. That's normal, say communications experts and the veterinarians
we talked to. But these sources all agree that you can learn to face them more effectively. Consider this a quick class in
communication and human behavior. And take these nuggets of wisdom and turn them into exam-room excellence today.
The bottom line
What not to do: Own the problem without the owner
What to do: Clients need to be your partners, says Dr. Brent Cook. If they won't acknowledge the risks of pet obesity—joint pain, heart
disease—you'll get nowhere by nagging. More than anyone else, the owner is responsible for increasing a pet's exercise or
decreasing caloric intake. "Most people don't come in looking for help with their pet's weight, or they've heard it before
and haven't changed their habits," he says. So your first step is to help the client recognize the problem. Dr. Cook or an
assistant uses handouts that show cats and dogs with different body condition scores. Clients circle the body condition category
they think their pet falls into. "Until they really recognize the problem, they don't want to do anything," he says.
What not to do: Tackle weight without your team
What to do: Send a team message to support owners who need to get their pets' weight down, says Dr. Cook. His receptionists are trained
to notice when pets are carrying extra pounds and mention it to clients: "Wow, has Fluffy put on some weight?" When pets are
weighed, veterinary assistants say, "You know, last year Fluffy weighed 32 pounds. Now she's 46 pounds. Were you aware of
that?" Dr. Cook says this all sets the stage in the client's mind: "Wow, this must be a really big problem." When he then
sees the client, Dr. Cook explains why obesity is a health risk and asks if the client would like to set up a weight-loss
program for the pet.
What not to do: Make a pet's obesity personal
What to do: You may feel uncomfortable talking about a pet's obesity with a visibly overweight client. Just keep it focused on the pet,
and no one will be offended. "We don't talk to clients about themselves," Dr. Cook says. "If overweight owners happen to get
more exercise walking their dogs, all the better. But don't bring their weight into the conversation."
Dr. Brent Cook, co-owner of Kingsbrook Animal Hospital in Frederick, Md.
What not to do: Push the client