Sixty-percent of cats in the USA are obese or overweight (2016 US Pet Obesity survey). One reason is that cat owners normalise their cat’s weight by which I mean they see an obese cat as a cat with a normal and acceptable weight. This maintains pet obesity. Other reason are the quality of pet food (e.g. too high in carbohydrates) and a lack of exercise.
Another reason is rarely discussed and is equally important if not more so: the veterinarian’s attempts to change the cat owner’s perception of their cat’s weight together with providing feeding and exercise regimes to drive down weight.
A study of Canadian veterinarian’s in 2006 is revealing. Veterinary appointments were filmed to allow analysis of the vets’ interaction with their clients and how or if they discussed cat weight issues.
Having read the article on the American Veterinarian website at least twice, my feeling is that:
Veterinarians are uncomfortable discussing pet obesity with their clients because it is a sensitive subject. It is sensitive because it reflects on the cat owner’s abilities to care for their cat. Only one veterinarian of the 123 appointments video taped had agreed to the appointment because of obesity. Nearly always, pet obesity comes up during an appointment for something else.
When discussing pet obesity humor is relied upon by the vet to get over the slightly tricky subject of obesity.
Clients can become resistant to advice if it does not concur with their thoughts. Under these circumstances vets dropped the subject. I suspect this is to avoid friction in the relationship between vet and client.
I’ll quote JoAnna Pedergrass DVM the author of the American Veterinarian article, “Discussions on weight and dietary management were typically unclear or absent”.
Vets failed to give a clear assessment on weight. They relied on the client to persistently demand it. And then the matter was dropped without the vet recommending a weight loss program.
Exercise was recommended on 2 occasions (out of 25 appointments). Both of the cats were indoor cats. Clearly exercise is the flip side of diet. One supports the other and a vet should not avoid discussing it. I wonder if they see it as hopeless to discuss exercise based on their experience.
In 6 appointment concerning obesity prevention the veterinarians were “usually oblique” (unclear and lacking directness). They warned about avoiding further weight gain but provided no method of achieving that objective.
As mentioned there appears to be too much vagueness and lack of desire to discuss pet weight issues with clients.
If I was cynical (which I am) I might suggest that vets sometimes avoid the subject because if all their patients were fit and of perfect weight they’d be healthier. This might impact the vet’s income negatively.
Another cynical reason is that vets are attached to the large pet food manufacturers. We see piles of dry cat food on clinic shelves. I think that I can state with confidence that a 100% dry cat food diet is not ideal. I wonder if vets ever discuss this. It may present a restraint on veterinarians in discussing the sensitive subject of cat obesity.
Conclusion: veterinarians could do better in tackling cat obesity.