How Vets Talk to Clients About Feline Obesity

Obesity is a very common health problem in pets.  Is your dog or cat overweight…and if so, has your veterinarian had a serious discussion with you about the health risks associated with obesity in pets?  A recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science examined how a group of vets in Ontario, Canada talked to clients about their overweight cats.

The findings show that many veterinarians tend to avoid potentially uncomfortable conversations about the less than ideal feeding practices of clients who have overweight cats, and they also often do not have serious discussions about weight management.  Vets are more likely to skirt around the issue to avoid insulting clients.  Their strategies include the use of humor, and addressing the pet directly (i.e. “You sure love your food, don’t you Fluffy?”).

The article notes that many owners of obese pets try to “normalize” their pet’s weight and minimize the seriousness of the problem.  This can be especially true for cats, as they tend to see the vet less frequently than dogs, so there are fewer opportunities for discussions between a vet and owner about feline obesity.

The researchers examined nearly 300 videos of vet-client interactions involving feline patients.  The results show that only a small percentage of the vets had any discussions about the causes and prevention of obesity.  In fact, most of the conversations were generated by a handful of the vets who were more likely to bring up the issue.

What were some of the communication problems identified?  When talking about specific kinds of cat food, the vets were more likely to mention specific brands’ quality and nutritional content, and the clients tended to focus on shapes and colors.  They often could not name the brands they used and said things like the food was “from the natural pet store.”

If clients seemed resistant to talking about feeding habits, the vets often resorted to humor when addressing a cat’s weight.  Talking to the pet as a way of communicating with the client was a common strategy.  This “patient-directed speech” would often take the form of a compliment on the cat’s appearance (nice fur, for example) and then joking conversations with the animal (“You’re not missing many meals, are you?”).

What can be done to improve vet-client communication about pet obesity?  The authors recognize that addressing pet obesity with clients can be a sensitive issue for vets.  However, they stress that there is “a need for a dynamic and individualized response to obesity management in veterinary medicine.”  Pet owners can be resistant to measures like reducing food intake and eliminating treats, but vets need to be more proactive in exploring their clients’ attitudes, asking questions, and providing clear explanations and plans in order to improve communication about pet obesity management and prevention.

And of course, we pet owners should talk honestly and openly with our vets about how we are feeding our dogs and cats, especially if they are overweight.  Awareness about the risks of pet obesity and what we as owners can do about it is important.  Here’s a great website to learn more about pets and weight:  petobesityprevention.org

 

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Efforts Underway to Help the Pets of Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria

The citizens of Puerto Rico are facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.  Damage from the hurricane as well as shortages of clean drinking water, food, and fuel are creating huge challenges for both residents and aid workers.  What about the animals of Puerto Rico?  The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) recently posted an update on the situation via their blog, A Humane Nation.

HSUS and the Humane Society International (HSI) have been working in Puerto Rico for the past 3 years on the Humane Puerto Rico program, which is designed to support animal welfare on the islands of Puerto Rico and Vieques.  HSUS reports that Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares will be signing an executive order that facilitates collaboration between Puerto Rico, HSUS, and HSI on the care, transport, placement, and veterinary health of the island’s at-risk animals.

HSUS is preparing to transport homeless pets from Puerto Rico to the mainland U.S., where they will be placed with approximately 400 Emergency Placement Partners and prepared for adoption.  In addition to working with U.S. shelters, they’ll also be partnering with other organizations like Wings of Rescue to coordinate the transfer of animals.

While assessment of the situation for Puerto Rico’s pets and shelter animals is still in its earliest stages because of damage to communications and roads, preliminary reports suggest that the wild horse population of Vieques has suffered major casualties, and hundreds of race horses on the main island are also facing challenges.

As HSUS notes, “Puerto Rico is part of the United States. We will double down on our work there to help them through this great crisis, with our full focus, energy, and resolve. This was a 100-year storm, and there’s been so much loss. And to be sure, there is hardship ahead. If there’s ever been a time for the nation to rush in to help Puerto Rico, that time is now.”

 

How Your Pet’s Health Can Affect Your Own Well-Being

If you are living with a seriously (or terminally) ill dog, cat, or other companion animal, then you know how stressful that can be.  A recent study published in the Veterinary Record has found that your pet’s health problems have a very real impact on your emotional health.  Caregivers for sick pets are much more likely to suffer from stress, depression, and anxiety than the owners of healthy animals.

Research conducted by Kent State University scientists surveyed 119 owners of dogs and cats with a chronic or terminal illness and 119 owners of healthy pets.  Not surprisingly, the “caregiver burden” was much greater in the owners of the sick pets, who showed more symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression—as well as an overall lower quality of life and poorer psycho-social functioning—than the people who lived with healthy pets.

The researchers note that the concept of caregiver burden in pet owners needs to be better understood by veterinarians, so that they can recognize and help clients who show signs of stress and depression.  They suggest that vets can even partner with mental health professionals to support their clients.

In an editorial that accompanies the article, the authors note that the stress of caring for a seriously or terminally ill pet can be as substantial as that of caring for a very sick human family member.  But caregivers for ill humans have a significant support network (nurses, home health aides, hospice, etc.) that pet owners do not have.  The authors argue that this is why it’s so important for veterinarians to be well-trained in how to handle client distress in difficult situations.

 

How to Help Florida and Caribbean Pets Affected by Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma left a widespread trail of flooding and destruction throughout the Caribbean and Florida.  What can concerned animal lovers do to help the dogs, cats, and other animals left homeless by the hurricane?  Animal rescue and relief efforts are underway, led by both U.S. and international animal welfare organizations. Here’s an update on a few ongoing rescue operations.

The Humane Society International and the H3 Foundation are teaming up to help the animals of the British Virgin Islands that have been impacted by Hurricane Irma.  An emergency veterinary team has already arrived on the island of Tortola, with more rescue and relief efforts scheduled to arrive in the BVI in the coming days.  Click HERE to learn more.

The islands of Antigua and Barbuda were hard hit by Irma.  While there are no animal shelters on Barbuda, Antigua humane organizations are helping the pets and farm animals of both islands.  Check out the Facebook page of Paaws Antigua for the latest news and updates on their ongoing efforts to save the animals in both places.

The Florida Keys SPCA is on the front lines of helping the homeless pets of the Keys.  Their facilities were damaged and all their resident shelter animals have been moved into foster homes.  Not only will they need help with repairing shelter buildings on Key West and Marathon, they also expect an influx of many more displaced pets in the coming days and weeks.

South Florida’s wild animals need help, too!  The South Florida Wildlife Center rescues and rehabilitates the wildlife of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties.  Hurricanes can flood birds and animals out of nests and burrows, so wildlife rescue efforts are especially critical after storms.

 

FAQs: Airline Travel with Pets

Thinking about bringing your fur kids along when you visit family and friends over the holidays?  If your holiday travel will involve an airline flight, it’s never too early to start planning for a smooth trip for both yourself and your pet.  What do you need to know to book a pet on a flight?  Make sure you check the specific pet policies of each airline you are considering, and be sure to book early, as many airlines reserve a limited number of spots for pets in the cabin (or cargo) section.

What else do you need to know to make flying with dogs, cats, and other pets as stress-free as possible?  Here are some answers to a few frequently asked questions…but always remember to check with your airline for definitive information!

Are there government regulations for pet airline travel?

Yes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service maintains a website with valuable information on both domestic and international travel with pets.  They also provide a heads-up on which animals actually qualify as “pets.”  Be sure to check the USDA site if you have an exotic companion animal!

How can I compare airline pet policies?

The pet-friendly travel website Bring Fido has a web page that lists most major U.S. and international airline pet policies.  From Aer Lingus to Turkish Airlines, you can easily click between sites to find the perfect pet policy for your needs.

Do I need to see the vet before I fly with my pet?

According to American Veterinary Medical Association, most airlines require a current Certificate of Veterinary Inspection for your pet to travel.  Your vet will certify that your pet is healthy enough for travel, and that it has no diseases that could be passed on to humans or other animals.  Certain vaccines need to be up-to-date before your pet can travel.  Don’t forget that international pet travel health requirements can be more stringent than domestic ones, and your pet may have to go into quarantine upon arrival.  This applies to Hawaii as well.

Is it safe for my pet to fly in cargo?

Many concerned pet owners have heard scary stories about pets’ health being harmed by flying in cargo.  A recent article in Conde Nast Traveler cites a U.S. Department of Transportation report on statistics for pet cargo travel in 2016.  Out of approximately 500,000 pets that flew cargo, 26 died and 24 were injured.  That’s about a 1 per 10,000 pet incident rate.  United and Hawaiian have the highest incident rates.  Flying with your pet in the cabin with you is safer than putting your pet in cargo, but that is only an option for smaller pets.  Large dogs must fly cargo unless they are service animals.  Many experts suggest avoiding placing your pet in cargo unless it is absolutely necessary, such as for a cross-country move.

What kind of pet carrier should I get for airline travel?

Each airline’s pet policy page will have specific dimensions for under-the-seat pet carriers.  Generally, they allow hard or soft carriers, as long as they fit under the seat in front of you.  Remember, you cannot remove your pet from the crate during flight, so the carrier must be large enough to keep your pet comfortable.  Some pet stores sell carriers specifically designed for airline travel.  The carrier company Sherpa Pet works with American and Delta, so you can get carriers specifically designed for those airlines.

Happy travels!