Pet weight may be difficult for veterinary professionals to address with clients, particularly when pets are overweight or obese. The objective of this study was to characterize the communication processes and content of weight-related conversations occurring between veterinary professionals and clients.
Audio-video recordings of 917 veterinarian-client-patient interactions involving a random sample of 60 veterinarians and a convenience sample of clients.
Companion animal veterinarians in southern Ontario, Canada, were randomly recruited, and interactions with their clients were audio-video recorded. Interactions were reviewed for mentions of weight, then further analyzed by means of a researcher-generated coding framework to provide a comprehensive assessment of communication specific to weight-related interactions.
463 of 917 (50.5%) veterinary-client-patient interactions contained an exchange involving the mention of a single patient’s (dog or cat) weight and were included in final analysis. Of the 463 interactions, 150 (32.4%) involved a discussion of obesity for a single patient. Of these, 43.3% (65/150) included a weight management recommendation from the veterinary team, and 28% (42/150) provided clients with a reason for pursuing weight management.
Findings illustrate opportunities to optimize obesity communication to improve the health and wellbeing of veterinary patients.
To compare pet owners’ and veterinarians’ perceptions of veterinarian-client conversations concerning pet weight and identify challenges related to communication about weight.
Veterinarians (n = 24) and pet owners (27) in southern Ontario, Canada.
3 veterinarian and 5 pet owner focus groups were conducted with a semistructured interview format. Thematic analysis of verbatim transcripts was conducted.
Pet owners valued weight as an important health indicator for pets yet did not expect to discuss weight extensively at every appointment. Owners expected veterinarians to provide options and tailor recommendations when discussing weight management. Owners appeared more concerned with underweight animals, whereas veterinarians focused on obese animals. Veterinarians identified communication challenges, including the perception that owners are uninterested in discussing weight and conversations can become adversarial. Veterinarians reported various benefits and challenges of using humor to address pet weight and emphasized that weight-related conversations often depend on the existing veterinarian-client relationship.
Some perceptions of pet owner expectations expressed by veterinarians in this study align with owner preferences, yet several opportunities exist for changes to veterinarians’ approaches to weight-related communication with clients.