Healthy eats: Pet nutrition is a veterinary team effort


Delivering a nutrition message at every appointment is crucial.

By the time clients leave Tudor Glen Veterinary Hospital in the city of Albert in Alberta, Canada, they've discussed pet nutrition at least five times. Often the client doesn't even realize the conversation has been so extensive, but it has definitely happened with every single staff member he or she has encountered. And this accounts for higher-than-usual pet food sales for Tudor Glen—as well as healthier pets.

The nutrition conversation isn't left to chance. Rather, a well-planned strategy is in place to ensure every client learns the importance of proper pet nutrition.

Food for thought

While clients hear about nutrition numerous times throughout a visit, they never leave feeling hit over the head with it, says practice owner Dr. Tammy Wilde. "We don't use a lecture format, but instead just make it part of every conversation," she says. "Nutrition provides the basis for disease prevention, so it's very important for clients to have this information. We incorporate it into our talks about dental health, digestive health, skin and coat condition, and more."

To make this strategy effective, every team member has to buy into the importance of these discussions, says treatment room manager Dawn Phillips, AHT. "We continually educate our team members on how nutrition affects pet health and teach them how to incorporate nutrition into all of our conversations," says Phillips. "It starts with the greeter at the front door, continues into the exam room with the technician and doctor, and finishes up with the receptionist at checkout. To make this work, no one person is more important than another. We need each other every step of the way."

Recipe for success

Building a successful program takes the whole team's dedication to create a consistent message. With the right training and tools, team members can help pet owners make good decisions about their pets' nutrition and increase the practice's pet food sales as well. Consider these five steps outlined below and follow this advice to help emphasize nutrition in your practice and reap the rewards of healthier pets.

1. Employ a greeter.

Every receptionist takes a turn at the greeter station throughout the week. The greeter meets clients and pets upon arrival and walks them through a series of questions on the intake sheet. "Sometimes we have a bit of wait time, so the greeter sits up front with the pet and asks the client questions, keeping her engaged so she doesn't feel like she's waiting a long time," says Phillips. The greeter asks what kind of food the pet eats, where the client buys it, how the pet is feeling, whether the pet is experiencing any itching, and so on. The greeter then makes notes for the technician to follow up on once in the exam room.

2. Get technical.

The technician's job is to continue the conversation, following up on any issues or concerns noted at intake. The technician then makes notes the doctor can use to follow up.

3. Make sure the doctor is in.

By the time the doctor enters the exam room, the stage has been set for a more thorough conversation. "I try to use benefits language to sell clients on the importance of proper pet nutrition," says Dr. Wilde. For example, Dr. Wilde will explain why a certain food or product will improve the pet's life and engage the client in a positive conversation about these benefits. (For more on benefits language, see "Offer a Hearty Serving of Benefits".)

4. Provide a warm reception.

At checkout, the receptionist will ask whether the client has any more questions or concerns and show the client where to find pet food for purchase. "The client won't always make the purchase the first time, but at least we're planting the seed," Phillips says.

5. Give a call back.

The nutrition conversation doesn't end when the client and the pet walk out the door. If a pet owner purchases pet food or treats, a technician will call the client two days later to see whether the client has started the pet on the food and make sure there are no problems. Also, technicians or receptionists will call one last time right before the pet is due to run out of the food, based on notes they took at the day of purchase. During this call the staff member will see whether the pet owner is ready for another bag of food or has any concerns. "We want to preemptively stop the client from going back to the store for pet food," says Phillips. "That way they keep their pet on healthier food and make us the source for buying the food."

Put it in writing

To reinforce the message, the team at Tudor Glen Veterinary Hospital also employs written materials. The hospital's marketing manager creates a different informative article to distribute each month, often focusing on nutritional topics. The receptionist staples a copy of this article to the client invoices at checkout. Also, all clients on the hospital e-mail list receive a copy of the article. The practice also posts examples of these articles on their website at

"To make sure we're all on the same page, giving a consistent message, we have continuing education meetings about these topics each month," says Phillips. The topics aren't discussed in technical detail. Instead, the meetings help team members ensure they are presenting the same message from start to finish.

Whether it's in print, over the phone, or in person, each and every team member is involved in educating clients about patients' nutritional needs. And team members are seeing results. For example, they've noted higher pet food sales and fewer cases of nutrition-related health problems. "We just make sure that nutrition is a part of everything we do," Phillips says.

Sarah Moser is a freelance writer and editor in Lenexa, Kan. Share your thoughts at

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