One of the most important developments in veterinary and medical care alike is the realization that preventing illness and ensuring a healthy and long life often requires a healthy lifestyle and diet plan.
Among veterinarians, the impact of the provision of a healthy diet for pets of all types has become increasingly obvious. Unfortunately, many pet owners choose to feed their beloved companion animals an imbalanced and unhealthy diet, failing to realize that while their pet may love table scraps, they could be harming their pet’s long-term health.
Because of this, the field of veterinary nutrition is becoming increasingly important at every level, ranging from local veterinarians and vet techs who specialize in this field to researchers who work on developing new dietary standards for common and exotic pets.
In many cases, a pet nutritionist may be a specialist who has animals referred to his or her practice by another veterinarian while other nutritionists work in the context of a general veterinary practice.
Types of Pet Nutritionists
There are a wide range of pet nutritionists currently working in the veterinary care sector. In addition, some veterinarians and vet techs have specialized in pet nutrition, providing nutritional evaluation and recommendations for pet owners in addition to their other services.
Specialized Pet Nutritionists
Specialized pet nutritionists generally focus solely on the field of pet nutrition rather than providing other veterinary care services. In general, these individuals have received a wide range of specialized training in the field of veterinary nutrition, usually including both pre and post-baccalaureate courses.
Bachelor’s Degree Programs and Pet Nutrition
In most cases, a bachelor’s degree will be in a more general subject such as animal science or biology. This allows the prospective nutritionist to obtain the general grounding that he or she will need to become an effective pet nutritionist. However, many schools will offer the opportunity to specialize in animal nutrition by taking other courses during the completion of the general bachelor’s degree program.
In most cases, individuals thinking of working directly with animals must obtain further education as a vet tech or veterinarian or progress on to a graduate degree program. However, focusing on veterinary nutrition during a bachelor’s program may improve the individual’s ability to enter a graduate program in this field.
Graduate Degree Programs
Master’s degrees and doctoral level work can allow the student to specialize in the field of veterinary nutrition. In general obtaining a master’s degree involves specializing in a certain type of animal, such as felines or equines. Doctoral level work involves conducting research in the field of animal nutrition, usually in order to develop new treatments or evaluate existing treatments.
In both cases, these advanced degrees require a high level of commitment. In general, graduation will require successfully completing a number of exams in addition to a thesis or project that will be evaluated by the student’s committee. In some cases, it may be possible to complete an advanced degree on a part time basis, while also working as a professional in the veterinary field. This can also be used to satisfy the continuing education (CE) requirement that most certified vet techs and licensed veterinarians must annually complete in order to retain their qualification.
Veterinary Technician Specializations
In addition to becoming a specialized veterinary nutritionist, it is possible for a vet tech to obtain a specialization in this field from the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians (AVNT), which is recognized by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA).
The AVNT was formed to provide assistance and certification for vet techs who wished to become highly skilled in the field of pet nutrition.
In order to become certified by the AVNT, the vet tech must complete the following steps:
- Have at least three years or 4,000 hours of experience in the field of animal nutrition. This can be either clinical or academic experience.
- Have completed at least 40 hours of qualified CE units relating to veterinary nutrition.
- Provide evidence via case studies and other materials that the candidate has a high degree of skill in the field of veterinary nutrition.
In addition, certification from the AVNT does not replace the need to be a certified or licensed vet tech with the relevant state agencies. In fact, the AVNT only accepts vet techs who are currently in good standing with their state licensure agency.
Veterinarians and Veterinary Nutrition
Veterinarians who wish to specialize in the field of veterinary nutrition can obtain assistance from the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN), which is recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Veterinarians who are interested in specializing in veterinary nutrition may seek to become an ACVN diplomate via applying to the ACVN and completing all required steps.
As with vet techs, there are a number of requirements those seeking to become an ACVN recognized specialist in this field must complete, including the following:
- Be a licensed veterinarian who is currently in good standing.
- Have at least a full year of clinical experience in the field of veterinary medicine.
- Enter an ACVN approved program of study, including an approved mentor.
- After completing the program, the candidate must complete a comprehensive veterinary nutrition examination in order to qualify to become an ACVN diplomate.
- In addition, all ACVN diplomates must remain current with a program of continuing education in order to ensure that they are aware of the most recent developments in the field of pet nutrition.
Working as a Pet Nutrition Specialist
In general, high-level pet nutritionists, those who hold advanced degrees or who have become an ACVN certified nutritionist, specialize in this field rather than providing general services.
In addition to working directly with pets, they often engage in long-term research projects designed to provide the information pet owners, veterinarians and vet techs will require in order to provide the best possible care to their animals. Many pet nutrition specialists work with the government in order to ensure that commercial pet food products are healthy and safe for pets.
In other cases, pet nutrition specialists may provide training to veterinarians and vet techs in how to apply the lessons of proper pet nutrition to their daily work with pets and their owners. This is especially important in order to reduce the number of avoidable health conditions that occur due to poor nutrition at home.
Vet techs who have obtained a certification in veterinary nutrition usually work with a veterinarian, either assisting a vet in providing nutrition related help to the animals under his care or assisting a specialist in the field.
Because most states strictly limit what services a vet tech can provide when not directly supervised by a veterinarian, few vet techs are self-employed, although some may work with educational organizations, helping to inform the public about proper animal nutrition.
In addition, there are a wide range of other fields that require skilled animal nutritionists. Zoos must fulfill the nutritional needs of a wide range of animals, and often employ veterinary nutritionists on their staff in order to ensure that all the animals are receiving a proper diet. This field generally requires additional education, especially when exotic animals are involved.
In some cases, wildlife management and research programs may make use of a veterinary nutritionists when evaluating the diet of wild animals. This can often be important when attempting to determine the effects of human encroachment into the traditional hunting or grazing territories of wild animals. Like zoological nutrition, this field often requires additional training, in addition to a willingness to work outside.
Finally, the growing public awareness about the importance of proper nutrition for livestock and other production animals has resulted in an increased emphasis on ensuring that these animals receive a balanced and nutritious diet.
Many ranches and farms make use of the services of veterinary nutritionists when planning out their production animals’ diet.
Ultimately, becoming a veterinary nutritionist can be a rewarding field and is one that is rapidly expanding as the importance of proper nutrition becomes clear.
This field not only allows an individual to make an important contribution to animal health, but also is a field that is professionally and publicly respected, in addition to possessing excellent professional and salary prospects.