Ever tried to convince an owner that weight loss is indeed possible for their 74-pound beagle? For their 21-pound cat? It’s only then that you’ll understand how stressful it can be to effect real change in a pet’s health with respect to their weight.
That’s why veterinarians find themselves in an uneasy position when it comes to even going there. When an owner is likely to be:
a) Angry at the insinuation that their cat resembles a footstool more than she does a frisky feline
b) Offended that you should insult their pet-keeping skills when you suggest their Yorkie’s "coffee table" proportions are unhealthy
c) Frustrated at their inability to keep their chocolate Lab’s pantry-raiding ways under control
d) Blithely ignorant –– indeed willing to contradict you –– on their pet’s excess of weight
e) All of the above
It’s enough to ensure that you will never bring up the topic again.
It’s often a wasted effort, this weight loss concern. Ask any human general practitioner and they’ll likely agree. Medicare does NOT reimburse for the stress involved with respect to weight loss spiels, and veterinary medicine is no different. For all we do to counsel our clients on the merits of weight loss and the pitfalls inherent to obesity, we’re more likely to be rewarded with indignation than with success –– including that of the monetary variety. Weight loss is not a profit center.
I know what you’re going to say: How cruel! How can a physician or veterinarian fail to deliver based on the inducements only cold hard cash can provide?
But then, I’m a realist. And as a realist, I understand the basics of human motivation: Offer a choice between a task that’s likely to yield clinical success and financial remuneration, and one that’s more apt to achieve neither. There’s no doubt that most humans will choose the former. Why should vets or human docs be any different?
Pick your battles, say all the experts. Don’t waste your energy and your skills in areas where you’re likely to lose.
Still, obesity is so eminently treatable that I’ve found that my own approach favors tackling the subject head-on, guns-a-blazing. I enjoy the challenge of a weight loss scenario –– even if the rewards are few and far between. Yet I don’t blame my colleagues for not playing to underdog issues like this one. After all, there are plenty of times I wonder why I continue to do so.
Dr. Patty Khuly