An Exploration of Weight-Related Communication During Companion Animal Veterinary Visits

Sutherland, Katja
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University of Guelph

Effective veterinary professional-client communication is important to support positive weight management outcomes for overweight and obese pets. Observational, focus group, and questionnaire-based research methodologies were used to explore components of pet weight-related communication in companion animal veterinary practice. The content and process of pet weight-related conversations were assessed in 917 audio-video recorded appointments involving 60 veterinarians. Single-pet weight-related interactions were identified in 50.5% (463/917) of appointments. An overweight patient was addressed in 16.4% (150/917) of conversations. Limited nutrition and weight-related information was exchanged between clients and veterinary professionals during interactions containing a discussion of pet weight. A mixed logistic regression model found increasing body condition was associated with increased odds of an obesity conversation occurring; odds were lower for appointments involving a pediatric and geriatric patient relative to an adult, and lower in problem or recheck relative to wellness visits. Pet owners’ expectations, veterinarians’ perceptions of clients’ expectations and veterinarians’ communication challenges related to pet weight and communication about pet weight were explored with 5 pet owner (n=27) and 3 veterinarian (n=24) focus groups. Pet owners did not expect to discuss weight at every appointment, though expected veterinarians to tailor information and recommendations to the owner’s and pet’s lifestyle. Veterinarian challenges included discomfort discussing pet obesity with obese owners and perceived client denial or resistance to discussing an overweight or obese pet. A questionnaire was used to assess pet owners’ (n=119) readiness to address the weight of a self-identified overweight or obese cat or dog. Overall, pet owners had low levels of readiness to change, with 52.1% identified in the precontemplation stage of change. A questionnaire was used to investigate veterinary professionals’ (n=102) perceptions of pet weight- and obesity-related communication with clients. Many veterinary professionals reported avoiding the topic of pet obesity with clients who were perceived to be difficult or resistant. Results suggest the potential for an implicit weight bias among veterinary professionals. This thesis contributes to further understanding veterinary professional-client conversations related to companion animal weight, especially overweight and obese animals, and identifies several potential barriers to overcome to enhance the outcome of weight conversations in veterinary practice.

veterinary medicine, companion animal practice, clinical communication, pet obesity, weight-related communication