RVC professor explores the vet’s role in pet obesity
Pet obesity is now recognised as a major health concern, yet despite widespread awareness of the problem, reported cases are higher than ever. Speaking at London Vet Show, the RVC’s Daniel Chan urged vets to consider taking action.
Numerous campaigns exist to raise awareness of obesity, yet studies across the country suggest it is a growing concern seen in a variety of species, including horses, ponies and even reptiles, as well as cats, dogs and rabbits.
“So why is there such a lack of progress?” Prof Chan asked during a lecture at London’s Olympia today (November 20). He suggested that while there is an awareness of the problem, it is perhaps not taken as seriously as a disease, which he believes may be sending the wrong message to clients.
The majority of weight clinics are run by veterinary nurses and in his sampling of these, Prof Chan said he found vets are rarely active participants, but generally nurses would like more engagement from vets in practice.
Vets need to change clients’ attitudes to obesity, he added. Currently clients are often advised to feed less, exercise more and be guided by information on packaging to find out how much to feed.
However, guidance on food packaging is based on “active dogs”, Prof Chan explained. As we live increasingly busy lives and do less exercise, our dogs are becoming increasingly inactive too. A dog is considered “active” if it is getting 20 hours of exercise a week.
Prof Chan said vets need more specific guidelines to share with owners but there is a lack of research on the types of exercise pets should do, how effective it is and how often they should be doing it.
In the same way that humans benefit from the gratification of achieving a target – monitored using a pedometer or exercise machines at the gym showing how many calories they have burned off, clients too need positive reinforcement that a diet programme is beneficial to their pet. If they have no positive feedback, they are unlikely to continue.
Owner expectations must also be realistic to prevent clients losing motivation. Vets have a role to play in managing these expectations.
Changing the attitudes of clients is key. About 40 to 50 per cent of owners say they were unaware their pet was obese and did not realise being overweight was harmful to their health. Prof Chan said this should be taken with a pinch of salt, as owners fear being judged by their vet.
Vets must change the message and empower owners to make their pet healthier, rather than telling them they are doing something wrong, he said.
Closing his lecture, Prof Chan urged delegates to ask themselves “what extra responsibilities and actions should we take to tackle obesity?”