ACVC 2018: Tips for Making Pet Nutrition Recommendations

October 29, 2018

Pet owners want sound nutrition advice from their veterinarian. Here are tips from a veterinary nutritionist for meeting this client expectation.

Most pet owners want their veterinarian to make specific pet food recommendations—naming a brand, advising how much to feed and how often, and crafting a follow-up plan for the pet. Are you confident in making those recommendations to your clients?

At the 2018 Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference, Julie Churchill, DVM, PhD, DACVN, associate clinical professor at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, offered practical tips to the help the veterinary health care team meet owners’ expectations when it comes to offering sound nutrition advice.

Get a Diet History

“A diet history is such a valuable diagnostic tool for beginning this process,” Dr. Churchill said. A basic diet history includes details on what, how much, and how often the pet is eating, but other details are important, too, especially if the pet is overweight or ill. The American College of Veterinary Nutrition and World Small Animal Veterinary Association both offer downloadable nutrition history forms that list important questions to ask clients. Ideally, these forms should be completed before the office visit, so owners are less likely to forget the name of the food or omit other important details, Dr. Churchill said. “Don’t forget to ask about treats the pet enjoys, and any supplements being given at home,” she added.


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Feed the Correct Amount

Measuring the food is important, but so is determining optimal daily calorie intake. Pet food manufacturers provide feeding guidelines on the packaging, but those guidelines are broad because they have to cover pets across a wide spectrum of energy/calorie needs. So although feeding guidelines are a starting point, Dr. Churchill recommended starting near the bottom of the scale and then assessing the pet’s body condition score down the road to determine whether adjustments are needed.

Other physical differences should be considered as well. “Neutered animals need, on average, 20% to 30% fewer calories than they did before they were neutered. Obesity-prone pets also need adjustments,” she advised. “And remember to include treats in your calorie calculation.” Treats shouldn’t account for more than 10% of a pet’s daily calorie intake, but when they are used to administer daily medication, or pets are otherwise getting snacks several times per day, the numbers can add up quickly.

Perform Nutritional Assessments for Your Patients

“Every pet should have body weight and body condition score assessed and recorded every time you conduct an exam,” Dr. Churchill said. These parameters are important indicators of overall health. Clients can even be instructed on how to asses body condition score on their pets at home.


When clients hear or read something incorrect about pet nutrition, they truly need to know the facts. Dr. Churchill advised partnering with your clients so you can educate them and help uncover their true concerns about a specific issue, such as a certain ingredient or a certain manufacturer. She also stressed the importance of including clients in making decisions about their pet’s food. Otherwise, she said, they’re less likely to follow even the best recommendations. Veterinarians should also follow up after a plan is initiated to help identify and address any issues.