Beware the Nutrition 'Specialist'

Jennifer Coates, DVM
By Jennifer Coates, DVM on Jul. 12, 2013

Did you know that just about anyone can receive a certificate in feline (or canine, or equine) nutrition with just 100 hours of online training? I ran across this program recently and was shocked. 100 hours might seem like a lot until you do some math. At 8 hours a day, that’s just about 2 weeks of school. Two weeks and you’re an expert in feline nutrition … really?

My daughter recently asked me what grade I graduated from when I was done with school. After doing a little math (12 plus 4 years of college plus 4 years of veterinary school) I was able to tell her that I was a graduate of grade 20. I don’t even want to think how many weeks that covers, and sometimes I feel like I’ve just barely got a handle on how best to feed cats.

If you want real feline nutritional expertise, talk to a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN). These folks did a whole lot more than take an online course of dubious distinction. As the ACVN website states:

Veterinary nutritionists are Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN). They are veterinarians who are board certified specialists in veterinary nutrition. Training involves intensive clinical, teaching, and research activities spanning at least two years. Trainees also are required to pass a written examination in order to obtain board certification.

Veterinary nutritionists are specialists that are uniquely trained in the nutritional management of both healthy animals and those with one or more diseases. Nutrition is critically important to maintain optimal health and ensure optimal performance, as well as to manage the symptoms and progression of specific diseases. Veterinary nutritionists are qualified to formulate commercial foods and supplements, formulate home-prepared diets, manage the complex medical and nutritional needs of individual animals, and understand the underlying causes and implications of specific nutritional strategies that are used to prevent and treat diseases.

The residency training program in veterinary nutrition is extensive. After achieving a degree in veterinary medicine and completing at least 1 year of internship or clinical experience, residency training includes at least 2 years of study, with a focus on both basic and clinical nutrition as well as research and teaching. Trainees study under the mentorship of at least one boarded veterinary nutritionist and often with contact with many others over the course of the program. Some programs also require graduate level coursework and rotation with other specialists (such as Internal Medicine, Critical Care, and Clinical Pathology). Trainees must prepare and write up three case reports to qualify to take the board exam. The two day written examination is offered annually and covers a wide range of nutritional and medical knowledge.

Your primary care veterinarian is an excellent source of information about the fundamentals of feline nutrition, but when things get complicated, who are you going to turn to — a board certified veterinary nutritionist or someone who has far less training than the person who cuts your hair?

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Thinkstock

Jennifer Coates, DVM


Jennifer Coates, DVM


Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...

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