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Posted on: August 16, 2021

Healthy Weight Clinic Partnership at K-State Contributes to Better Understanding of Pet Nutrition

20210407MN_CE-KSU-0056_C1-130714 1

The Healthy Weight Clinic at Kansas State University’s Veterinary Health Center is the perfect example of how partnerships between animal health companies and the talented veterinarians, researchers and students at K-State have a lasting impact on the future of veterinary medicine.

The clinic is part of a larger partnership between Hill’s Pet Nutrition and the university, which included financial support to build the new Hill’s Pet Health and Nutrition Center, a recently opened facility to house the existing Pet Health Center and the Healthy Weight Clinic. 

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the United States were reported by veterinarians to be overweight or obese in 2018. The Healthy Weight clinic works with pet owners to implement a strategy of proper nutrition and care to help their pets achieve a healthy weight. Forty-nine dogs and cats from all over Kansas have been enrolled so far and approximately 75% of those that finished the program have successfully reached their weight goals. 

Over the last year, the program has been led by Dr. Taryn Pestalozzi, pet health and clinical nutrition intern at K-State, who has been a veterinarian for eight years. After graduating from veterinary school, Pestalozzi joined a general practice in Portland, Oregon, but her passion for clinical nutrition led her to take her current position at K-State in the summer of 2020. 

Clients enroll in the program for six months, and for a flat fee they receive regular exams, personalized plans and prescription weight-loss food. At the exams, Pestalozzi and her team assess the animal’s body fat percentage and create a custom plan, which includes selecting the most effective food, instructions on how to transition to the new food, a treat allotment per day and, as appropriate, a suggested exercise regimen. The clinic began offering remote visits for some of the routine check-ups during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has allowed them to see clients who may have thought the clinic was inaccessible due to distance or other constraints.  

20210407MN_CE-KSU-0076_C1-132128 1Hill’s sponsorship of the Healthy Weight Clinic ensures that pet owners have access to the prescription food that plays a huge role in their pet’s ability to achieve a healthy weight. Their sponsorship also allows the clinic to offer this specialty treatment at a reduced cost.

“For the clients, it’s beneficial because prescription foods can be more expensive and this makes that food available for pet owners who may have been hesitant about a prescription diet,” Pestalozzi said. “The vast majority of pets who are moderately to severely overweight need a prescription weight loss diet to safely lose weight. If they aren’t fed an appropriate prescription diet, they’re at risk of becoming deficient in one or more nutrients when their calories are restricted.”

Not only do the clinic’s services help to reduce the risk of disease, but its clients are also seeing the benefits in their pet’s behavior at home, something that Dr. Pestalozzi and her students find rewarding. 

“Lots of clients tell us things like, ‘They’re acting so much younger, so much more playful, have more energy,’” said Pestalozzi. “What we’re providing is not just a recommendation, it’s actually playing a role in the quality of life.”

Recently there’s been a bigger emphasis among veterinarians on addressing nutritional needs. The Pet Health and Nutrition Center is always looking for ways to emphasize the importance of nutrition, and the clinic is one part of that effort.

While other veterinary schools across the nation have nutrition programs and services, many of them only offer care on an individual basis. K-State’s accessible, subsidized plan allows the veterinarians and students to help more pets, while providing a high level of care. 

“It’s somewhat of a unique program, and to that end it’s been beneficial for students,” said Pestalozzi. “Having been in private practice myself, I know that a lot of vets are less comfortable with nutrition, but these students get to see how you successfully manage a weight loss program and make it feasible for a client.”

Dr. Pestalozzi’s internship at the Veterinary Health Center was completed in June 2021. Dr. Gabrielle Rands will be overseeing the program for the next year. 

The Healthy Weight Clinic provides veterinary students with a real-world model for how to incorporate nutrition into their future practice. Students learn how to examine a patient for their overall body condition. In instances where weight loss is indicated, they learn to structure the treatment, set up an initial plan, and troubleshoot when clients run into hurdles. They get to see firsthand how impactful a prescription diet can be on an animal’s overall health.

The investments of Hill’s and other leading animal health companies is critical to improving the future of animal health around the globe. Beyond providing specialty services and treatment for animals in and around Kansas, K-State’s veterinary medicine students will graduate and may enter the private practice sector, taking these real-world experiences with them that will lead to better overall care for animals elsewhere. 

“We are pleased to partner with Hill’s Pet Nutrition to train veterinary students and early career specialists like Drs. Pestalozzi and Rands,” said Dr. Beth Davis, interim director of the Veterinary Health Center. “Working together, we can contribute to the mission of ending pet obesity worldwide while training the next generation of veterinarians. It is a priority of our program to maintain an emphasis on the importance of overall health and well-being of small animal patients through a healthy diet.”

If you’re interested in enrolling your pet in the Healthy Weight Clinic, contact the VHC

If your business would like to learn more about how to partner with the K-State Veterinary Health Center, please contact Rebecca Robinson at spexarth@ksu.edu

Photo credits to Mark Nagel

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