Friday, July 31, 2015

Why Can't I Call A Fat Pet Fat? Why is the truth so offensive?

Tip toeing through a minefield is not a talent I hold innately close to my heart. I see my job as your veterinarian as being an advocate for your pet. But, alas, as hard as I try I cannot find it in my toolbox to lie. I can't even seem to find it in myself to sugar coat. There are easy truths and the hard to accept truths. Weight issues in pets is at epidemic proportions. And, it is just as much as an epidemic for ourselves. No matter which end of the leash you are on, if you live in the USA, chances are on of us meets the criteria for being classified as overweight. The hard truth is that there are fat owners with fat pets and neither one of them wants to be honest with each other. Am I really your pets advocate if I consciously decide to forego hurting you feelings so that the reality mirror doesn't make you feel guilty?

Feelings, those damnable anthropomorphic sticky sentimental drivle that cripples our ability to see the black and white of life and deal with it.

Doctors are slaves to science. No emotional excuses to sway the numbers and the data never lies. I like black and white. I love numbers, raw, unadulterated bar graphs. They are the doctors apparition to the reality that allows us to shut the door on emotions.

But, the rest of the world lives in well sheltered 'spare my feelings' bubble.

So goes the course of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. You can numb yourself with the short lived delight provided by a Milk Bone but the grim reaper of obesity will find you sooner than he should if you do. Death and obesity are best of friends. If you want to thwart the pearly gates for as long as possible I recommend that you try to out run obesity. One of the easiest ways to add quality years is to stay lean and healthy.

And such is the dilemma that leads me to my most recent drama du jour....

I am hearing from my staff that there are clients who "don't want to see me because  I tell them that their pet is fat." In my defense, their pet is fat. In their defense they can choose to see whichever vet they want to. But, do I fail to deliver my purpose if I can't get my patients to see me? Probably. I can't practice my passion if I can't get them to drive on over to see me.

Here's how I see the obligation of the doctor in treating their patients;
If your doctor is not telling you the truth about your weight and the damage it is doing to your body they are negligent. Writing you a prescription without clearly explaining to you to the root of the problem, your role in it, and how you can resolve your own disease, without the drug is my PRIMARY responsibility. Excusing your difficulties and sheltering your feelings, responsibilities, and participation in the problem is the very foundation of why we are bound to the gripping strangulation hold of tobacco, fast food, drugs, and addiction. A drug to help you maintain a longer happier relationship with your drug is not medicine as it should be practiced.

Telling my clients that they can use, or need, more pain management to curb the aches in their pets joints while they buy boxes of biscuits and spend more time on the couch is selling their parenting skills and affection for their pets short. I may lose a client to the associate who doesn't want to hurt any feelings, but I stayed true to my belief that my primary obligation is to your pet. Further, I have never met a pet who didn't prefer a walk over a biscuit and t.v. We have a great deal to learn from our pets. Those mucky feelings aside our pets remind us what living and loving life looks like. All you have to do is put on a leash and head outside. Your pets smile is something that exists in nature alone.

My job is to empower you to save your pets life.

I saw a client last week who had elected to see another vet after her dog added on another 5 pounds to her already 20 over ideal. Once again I was prescribing an NSAID course for sore elbows. Once again I was feeling uneasy about why we needed pain management, what long term NSAID use might do to her kidneys, liver and how to get off the endless weight gain. At 7 years old I was going to be euthanizing this dog in a year or two, 4 or 5 years before she should be, simply because her frame couldn't support her weight. I have sat through too many of these. I am euthanizing too many fat pets because their owners are loving them to death.

How do I convince you to love in a healthy manner? I suppose I can only keep opening my mouth and trying? How do I tip toe through the feelings? Well, clearly I need to ask my associate how she does it.

I sent a letter to that dogs mom. Apologizing for hurting  her feelings, and asking for help in keeping their dog healthy. She avoided me for 6 months. On the next visit for NSAID's she pulled me aside and said "Thanks for your note. I know you care, and I know it is a problem. I was too embarrassed to talk to you. But I don't want my dog to suffer any longer. My husband and I are working on ways to help her eat less and exercise more. Thankfully she is still a happy energetic dog and I think we can love her without over feeding her."

So, maybe I can help without hurting? Maybe I just need to start training my patients how to drive to see me and take their humans for a walk?

If you have a pet question, or think that your pet care experience might help others, please join me at the online pet community dedicated to helping empower pet people by educating and inspiring them. It is free to use and open to everyone who loves animals.

If you have any advice for me, or want me to try to navigate around helping your pet without hurting your feelings, you can find me at Jarrettsville Vet in Harford County, Maryland.

I am also contributing to Everyday Health and on Twitter @FreePetAdvice.


  1. I love your style. You are doing the world a great service by being yourself. Thanks Dr. Magnifico!

    1. Perhaps I need to take up yoga and meditation? I feel like the white rabbit..always late for something and unable to stop and reflect on selecting my words more carefully. I get to the point, present the problem, and offer solutions..I can't imagine myself debating the delivery, contemplating the manner in which it is presented,, and hoping for a resolve..lets just get to the point already and make it better..
      where is that Alice anyway?
      Goodness knows my heart is in the right place..

  2. I've noticed that Fido/Fluffy has been gaining a bit of weight lately so I'm going to send along some handouts about the long-term health risks of obesity in pets. And because we're a team, caring for your pet together, how can I help you help your pet to lose some weight? (Have lots of weight reducing suggestions on the pages you send home).

    1. I know, I know,,, I need remedial charm school..ugh..

    2. (I spent years as a counselor . . .)

  3. I think you do have an obligation to be honest about how excess weight on a pet greatly affects their health and lifespan just as our human doctors openly talk to us about decisions that negatively affect our health. Maybe it's all in the delivery; that delicate balance between being blunt and compassionate. Another option is to give them a fact sheet printout that they can take home to read which might buffer the message from the messenger a little bit.

    1. You are right,, I gotta work on that delivery. Can't I just blame it on being Italian? its my genes! I argue and I am passionate...ok, I know, I'll work on it...
      Thanks for reading!

  4. Absolutely sharing this post. I wish more and more vets were honest like you are, then we might make a dent in the pet obesity epidemic!

  5. I had a fat dog. Actually at one time, ALL my dogs were fat. I often asked my old vet "do you think Bodi is too fat?" and my vet would say "Oh, he could lose a pound or two but nothing too bad". Well, when we moved and got copies of our dogs records to take to the new vet, the word OBESE was all thru the notes. I was livid. I asked if my pet was too fat because I thought he was...and my vet assured me he was fine. At some point, I got older and more confident in my knowledge and realized my dogs were all fat. All five of them. And I reduced everyone's food and increased exercise as tolerated (they were older fellas with varying degrees of tolerance) and got EVERYONE down to healthy weights and kept them there for the rest of their lives. I wish my early vet would have been honest with me from the beginning - I loved my boys and wanted only to keep them healthy and was willing to do ANYTHING to do so - including reducing their food intake. I firmly believe it's a vet's JOB to be honest about a dog's can save a dog's life. All these years later, I see (and judge, I know I know) other fat pets everywhere I go and I'm ashamed that once my dogs looked like all those fatties I see.

  6. Every fat dog I know has owners who assure me that the vet thinks the dog is 'fine'. Is it that the vets are being too polite, or the owner isn't listening?

    One seriously overweight small dog- belly drags on the floor when the dog sits down, no waist, no abdominal tuck- has its owners really worried about how 'old' it's got, how slow it is, how it's refusing to go for walks. Strap a backpack full of bricks to your back and see how glad you are to go for walks. Vet apparently (owner report) said the weight couldn't possibly be contributing to the problem.

    Maybe if the vet handed out 'how to deal with your overweight dog' leaflets, they would be less able to deny it. There would be a written record sitting with them so they couldn't just 'not hear' it.

    But really I think that for some people, if you're saying it in a way that hasn't offended them, it's because they've found some way of avoiding listening to what you're saying. They're not offended by your tone- they're offended that that snooty vet thinks they know better than the owner.