Fat” and “Obese” are Not 
Four-Letter Words

An assessment of your cat’s weight is a medical issue, not an indictment of you.


People tend to shut down when the veterinarian says their cat is fat or obese. They take it as an affront, often interpreting those words to mean they are being told they are irresponsible pet owners.

So said veterinarians participating in a series of structured focus groups about the difficulties in communicating nutrition information to their clients. They expressed further that pet owners often believe their pet’s weight is not a health issue when it very well might be.

To help deliver the message about excess weight in a way that won’t make pet owners feel defensive or like they’re “bad people,” many of the vets admitted to using lighthearted language or humor, says a study on the focus groups published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Examples included terms like “chunky monkey,” and “chubbies.” Some vets also used words like “swimsuit bodies” to jokingly disarm their clients so they would receive the message rather than balk.

We understand people’s hesitation to talk about a cat’s excess weight, but you don’t need to think of the words “fat” and “obese” as verbal finger pointing or “dirty” words. They are simply descriptors for a medical problem that can lead to a cascade of unfortunate events ranging from orthopedic difficulties to liver problems. Just as you wouldn’t feel accused if your cat’s vet said “diabetes” or “arthritis,” you shouldn’t feel accused if she says “fat” or “obese.” Those terms simply mean your pet has a condition that needs tending.

The really good news here is that resolving this particular medical problem is generally largely in your control. With your vet, you can work out a plan to help your cat lose the extra pounds by feeding fewer calories and burning more calories through increased activity.

Just keep in mind that the healthful way for cats to lose extra pounds is slowly. A number of vets who work with pet owners to help their cats slim down say they lose those pet owners on follow-up because they’re not seeing big weight-loss results fast enough.


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