Why we shouldn't be 'the wagging finger'
Educating clients is not about being the 'wagging finger' telling them they are doing something wrong. It's about trying to help them.
This was one of the key messages to come out of a press session at BSAVA Congress this morning (7 April), during which it was announced that 'Move Away From Muesli' will be the theme for this year's Rabbit Awareness Week (2-10 June).
Discussing how to change clients' attitudes, BSAVA president John Chitty said that if you tell them they are wrong, "you've just disengaged that person completely. They may be feeling guilty, they're automatically defensive, and you've lost that opportunity to teach them.
"Most people don't do things wrong deliberately. They just don't know how to do better, or they can't do better."
This year's campaign is urging pet owners to sign a pledge not to feed their rabbits muesli-style diets. Vets are also encouraged to sign the pledge to raise awareness of the risks associated with these diets.
Peer-reviewed research by the University of Edinburgh shows that rabbits fed muesli diets often feed selectively, choosing the high starch and sugar pieces over the fibrous pieces. Selective feeding increases the risk of dental disease, obesity, flystrike and gut stasis - conditions that could cost owners hundreds of pounds or even prove fatal.
Despite these risks, the latest PDSA Animal Wellbeing Report found that 25 per cent of rabbit owners still feed these diets to their pets.
Often, rabbits fed an inappropriate diet will suffer diseases that cannot be cured. Mr Chitty said: "As vets, we don't want that, we want to make them better. So our job has to be preventative medicine."
John Chitty said educating clients on how to keep their rabbits healthy would increase the enjoyment they get out of rabbit ownership, and also boost their trust in the veterinary profession. These owners could then become ambassadors that could spread the message to other rabbit owners.
However, clients often fall into two groups; those that are well educated and do a lot of research on how to care for their pet; and those that love their animals but are not very well informed on their care. It is this second group that proves more difficult to reach. Furthermore, around 50 per cent of owners do not vaccinate their pets each year, meaning the opportunity to educate them in practice is lost.
On a positive note, many retailers have now stopped selling muesli diets, and some are now stocking hay alongside pellet food, rather than in the bedding section.
During Rabbit Awareness Week, thousands of veterinary practices across the UK will offer free health checks and discounted treatments and vaccinations. Materials for displays and press packs will be made available on rabbitawarenessweek.co.uk