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

 

Advertisements

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.

 

First Aid Tips to Keep Your Pets Safe this Summer

Check out these great summer-themed first aid tips from the website PetMD.  Your pets can face all sorts of warm weather hazards like hot pavements on soft paws, an unexpected dip in the pool, insect bites and stings, and heatstroke.  Help keep your dogs, cats, and other companion animals safe this summer with these tips.

Know the signs of heatstroke and how to treat it.

Your pet can get overheated in the hot summer months.  Symptoms of heatstroke include vomiting, diarrhea, panting, fast pulse, red gums, and collapse.  If your pet’s temperature is over 104 degrees Fahrenheit, take her to a cool place immediately and begin treating with cool water (not ice water).  Bring your pet to the vet for a thorough exam, as heatstroke can cause organ damage.

Protect your pet from insect pests.

If you live in a place with a high incidence of Lyme Disease, consider having your pet vaccinated for it.  Use flea and tick prevention for dogs and cats but never administer dog treatments to your cat.  Cats are sensitive to these treatments and ones intended for dogs can be toxic to them.  You can give antihistamines for insect bites, just talk to your vet about dosage.

Be aware of the dangers of snake bites.

Bites from rattlesnakes and other venomous critters can be a hazard to your pet in the warm weather months.  Take your pet to the vet ASAP if she has been bitten by a snake or other animal.  Vets recommend not putting any topical medicines on the bite until it has been examined by an expert.

Open windows can be hazardous to your pet.

If you open your windows during the warm weather, make sure your screens are undamaged and securely in place before you let your pet sit on the windowsill.  Cats are especially likely to suffer trauma injuries from falling out of a window.   Your pet can get internal injuries as well as broken bones from a fall, so be sure to get to the vet as soon as possible.

Keep pets safe around the water.

Don’t assume your dog is an expert swimmer when you allow him to romp around the pool or take her for a boat ride.  Make sure your pet can swim and knows his way out of the pool in an emergency.  Get a pet life jacket for boat rides.  Be aware of the hazards of parasites and bacterial infections if your dog swims in a pond or river.  Pool chemicals can also irritate your pet’s eyes…and stomach, if swallowed.

Protect paw pads from hot surfaces.

Your pet can get burns on her paw pads if she walks on a hot surface like cement, or even beach sand.  Put booties on your dog’s feet for a long walk in the summer heat.  Soak your pet’s paws in cool water and talk to your vet about topical medicines to apply to the feet.  Also, pets with light colored fur can get sunburn, so keep them out of the midday sun or get them sun protection products made just for pets.

Summer foods can pose a risk to your pets.

Your pets may love the idea of hanging around your backyard barbecue, but be sure to keep an eye on them when the food is served.  Summertime favorites like corn on the cob (dogs may swallow cobs whole) and barbecue sauce (contains onion, garlic, and salt) can pose a real danger to your pet, as can alcoholic beverages.

Beware of pesticides and poisonous plants.

Keep pets off lawns that have been freshly treated with pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.  Certain pesticides like rodent and snail bait can be very harmful, or even fatal, to your pet if ingested.  Remove mushrooms from your yard as many can be toxic to pets.

 

Top 10 Pet Health Issues Seen by FACE and our Veterinary Partners

We are often asked about the kinds of pet health emergencies that are seen by our veterinary partners and referred to FACE, so that we may help qualified pet owners pay for life-saving veterinary treatments for their companion animals.  There are many common pet injuries and illnesses that we and our partners see on a monthly or even weekly basis.  Here’s a list of the top pet health issues helped by FACE grants.  Be sure to check out our website for more detailed information on each medical condition!

  1. Fractures

Broken bones are a very common pet injury that we see on an almost weekly basis.  Fractures of a dog or cat’s long bones are like human arm or leg fractures.  Some young or small pets can even sustain fractures from a jump off a couch or bed.  The most common signs of fractures are lameness, as well as pain and swelling at the injury site.  Be sure to get your pet to the vet as soon as possible.  Falls from high places (or being hit by a car) can cause serious, life-threatening internal injuries besides broken bones, like internal bleeding and ruptured organs, so quick diagnosis and treatment are critical.

  1. Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)

Most commonly seen in dogs, especially Dachshunds and other breeds with similar body types, IVDD occurs when the cushions between your dog’s spinal bones swell or rupture.  This can damage the spinal cord and lead to lameness, loss of sensation, incontinence, and even paralysis.  Mild IVDD can be treated with non-invasive measures, but a serious case requires surgery to decompress the spine.  Sadly, vets may often recommend euthanasia if a ruptured disc is left untreated.

  1. Foreign Body Obstructions

Dogs, cats, and other pets will often get into mischief and eat things they shouldn’t.  A gastrointestinal obstruction occurs when the object is not vomited up or passed through the intestinal tract.  Many common household items can cause an obstruction:  toy pieces, strings, rubber bands, coins, pieces of bone, etc.  An object stuck in the upper GI tract can be removed via endoscopy, but many stomach and intestinal obstructions require surgery.  Untreated obstructions can be fatal.

  1. Urinary Obstructions

A very common veterinary emergency, often seen in male cats, urinary obstructions occur when crystals or mucus form in the kidneys and enter the bladder and urethra.  Mild obstructions can cause your cat discomfort and distress, but complete obstructions (and the inability to pass any urine) cause deadly toxins to build up in your cat’s body, leading to death if left untreated.  Your cat’s urinary system will need to be flushed.  Chronic obstructions often require surgery.  Your vet will talk to you about dietary changes to prevent the formation of crystals in the future.

  1. Pyometra

Besides leading to unwanted litters of puppies and kittens, leaving your female dog or cat unspayed can also lead to a life-threatening medical condition called pyometra.  It is a bacterial infection of the uterus, occurring in one quarter of unspayed female pets.  Signs include lethargy, vaginal discharge, and anorexia.  A seriously infected uterus can be fatal, and the recommended treatment for pyometra is removal of the uterus and ovaries.

  1. Rattlesnake Bites

Here in San Diego, rattlesnake bites are a fairly common pet emergency that can happen year-round because of the warm climate.  Dogs are 20 times more likely to be bitten by a snake than us humans, mostly due to their inquisitive nature when they are exploring the great outdoors.  A bite from a venomous snake can be fatal to your pet, and immediate treatment with antivenom is crucial.  Your pet will also require additional treatment for pain, infection, and inflammation.

  1. Emergency C-Sections

Emergency Caesarian sections are sometimes required if your pet is experiencing distress during the birthing process.  Certain dog breeds with large head/small body size (like some bulldogs and terriers) can be especially vulnerable to problems.  It is critical to bring your dog to the vet as soon as possible if she is experiencing intense contractions with no sign of puppies.

  1. Enucleations

Enucleation is the removal of an eye due to an injury or illness that causes your dog or cat discomfort.  In pets, enucleation is often the best solution to relieve pain.  Conditions that may require removal of the eye include glaucoma, cancer, severe infection, and trauma.   Your vet will perform the operation to remove the eye under anesthesia, stitching the skin closed when done.

  1. Laceration Repairs

A laceration is a cut or tear in the skin, with severe lacerations often involving blood loss and damage to underlying structures like muscles, tendons, blood vessels, and nerves.  Surgery under general anesthesia is often required to repair significant lacerations.  Lacerations should be treated as soon as possible to avoid infection of the wound.

  1. Severe Dental Work

Rounding out the list of the most common pet health issues we assist with is a relatively new addition…severe dental work.  Serious periodontal disease in dogs, cats, and other pets can lead to life-threatening health conditions.  Left untreated, diseased teeth and gums can lead to loss of tissue and bone in the mouth and the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body, leading to bone infection and organ damage.  Talk to your vet about prevention strategies like home tooth brushing.