The Wild Wild West Of The Pet Nutritionists

The marketplace is exploding with people seeking education on nutrition for our furry friends.  

While it is common knowledge at this point that many veterinarians do not receive an extensive education in nutrition. There are, however, actual board-certified nutritionists. There are two veterinary colleges. The first is The American College of Veterinarian Nutrition ACVN, which has 96 Diplomates, and the European Society of Veterinary & Comparative Nutrition ESVCN, which has 42 Diplomates.

The requirements for the ACVN are two years of study with a focus on basic and clinical nutrition as well as research and teaching.

Some are no longer active, some work for various companies, others act as consultants. Many work at various veterinarian schools across the country. Many of them, however, do offer nutritional consultations and meal plans, usually on a veterinary referral basis.

There are also those with Masters and PHD's in animal nutrition.

At the same time, more and more veterinarians are taking the initiative to learn more about nutrition. This is a step in the right direction, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.

This still leaves a considerable knowledge and information gap. This has partially been filled by various influencers, companies, Pet store owners and employees, and everyday pet owners taking it upon themselves to learn more.

This has partially been caused by these same veterinarian nutritionists and the ACVN, as many of them hold an almost dogmatic opposition to raw or fresh feeding.

They cite study after study demonstrating that DIY/ and even many commercial raw and cooked diets are unbalanced.

Well, they probably wouldn’t be unbalanced if they took a more active role in educating the public, instead of just sitting on the sidelines complaining.

If we polled pet parents, we would be willing to bet that a majority of them wouldn’t be able to name one veterinary nutritionist. If we polled those same parents, many would likely be able to identify various raw feeding advocates.

I will grant them that there is a bacterial risk represented by raw feeding, but that ultimately isn’t a convincing argument to raw feeders or pet parents who have been let down time and again by an industry that is constantly plagued by recalls. Many of these recalls are for the very same reasons that they oppose raw feeding.

Instead of almost blanket opposition to raw feeding, it is time for them to embrace change and work to improve raw and fresh feeding instead of just opposing raw feeding.

While they will still play a major role in the future, Veterinary Nutritionist and the ACVN have reacted to raw feeding, as well as Blackberry reacted to the iPhone.

The continued opposition to raw and fresh feeding is best viewed as a sunk cost in behavioral economics. Where they continue to invest more time and resources in opposing raw feeding, when it is time to cut losses and work to improve fresh/raw feeding, they are wedded to the bacterial risk that raw feeding represents, and it has created a blind spot to the potential benefits that it represents.

Now, the benefits of raw and fresh feeding may not be as great as what many advocates make it out to be, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t represent a benefit.

But back to the topic at hand.

There are now plenty of courses, certificates, and “Diplomas” available. 

It seems like everyone and their mother is coming out with their own nutrition or raw feeding courses. Every day, more and more people are claiming to be certified pet nutritionists or have a diploma in canine nutrition. There are hundreds of people offering nutritional consultations, meal plan formulations etc. Many of them also have waiting lists.

There are hundreds of people claiming to be or portraying themselves as experts. Many people are attaching various acronyms or titles to their names and bios to create a heightened sense of professionalism. This can be misleading to many pet parents. When most people see an acronym or title, it lends that person more credibility; it creates a sense of security for the consumer. Oftentimes, this can be a false sense of security. 

The courses, certificates, and “diplomas” are all of varying length and quality. Some courses are less than 20 hours; some are 200 hours. Most are somewhere in between. Some just require watching some videos or death by PowerPoint. Some of the courses don’t have any quizzes or tests; some have several multiple-choice, while others require more work. Some don’t require reading, some provide a booklet, some require reading a book, and some require reading an actual textbook. Some have access to instructors; others do not. Some cover more basic level information, while others are more in-depth.

The point is there is a wide range of quality regarding the courses. This ultimately makes it more complicated and confusing for consumers and pet parents.

This is why we call it the Wild Wild West of the Pet Nutritionist. Everyone is claiming to be educated or certified, but given the disparate quality, pet parents don’t know who to trust and who not to trust.

What’s worse is that pet parents often begin searching for these people when their pet is not well. The pet parent is desperate to find someone to help formulate a diet.

We believe this is a significant problem, and it is something that needs to be addressed, preferably sooner rather than later.

Now, I’m not saying that they can’t formulate a diet to NRC, AAFCO, FEDIAF Standards. I’m not saying that they can’t answer some of your questions about your pet’s nutrition or health. I’m not saying you should only go to one of the board-certified veterinary nutritionists or someone with a master's in animal nutrition to formulate a diet for your pet.

We are saying that consumers do need to be more cautious. We are saying that you should ask plenty of questions before purchasing a meal plan or consultation.

You should ask where they received their certifications. You should look into who granted the certifications. What the course entailed. What was required to obtain the certificate? Ask them questions about the course. Ask them what the most interesting thing was they learned from their course.

What was the required reading? Ask them about the last research study they read. What was interesting about it? Ask them about what books they have read.  Ask them questions about the nutrient guidelines. Ask them what might happen if the diet is deficient in iodine. Ask them about Anti Nutrients. Ask them questions about one of their more difficult consults. Ask them how many supplements are generally used in their formulations. Ask them how many consultations they have done.

At the end of the day, anyone can technically formulate a diet to meet the minimums, but that doesn't mean it is a well-formulated diet because there is more to meal formulation than simply meeting the minimums on a spreadsheet. 

One of the best questions to ask about is prescription pet foods. If all they do is criticize them without nuance, then it’s best to go to someone else. It’s perfectly fine to be critical of the ingredients used, cost, etc, but to ignore the therapeutic benefit of altering specific micronutrients for specific health conditions shows that they don’t know what they are actually talking about when it comes to nutrition.

If anyone gets upset over you asking them questions before purchasing a consult or meal plan, then Its probably best to go to someone else. 

There is a reason why the NRC manual is over a thousand pages. There is a reason Small Animal Clinical Nutrition is over a thousand pages. Applied Veterinary Clinical Nutrition is four hundred pages; Veterinary Herbal Medicine is over seven hundred pages.

While everything may appear good on paper, it doesn't account for the bioavailability of those nutrients. It doesn’t account for the impact of anti-nutrients and the nutrients those impact. It doesn't account for the ratios between the different micronutrients. Just because AAFCO doesn't have maximum levels for many nutrients doesn't mean you should be giving significantly higher levels of them.

For example, you could formulate a diet to meet the Vitamin D requirement with mushrooms, but the Vitamin D in mushrooms is Vitamin D2Not Vitamin D3

While technically, you hit the minimum vitamin D requirement, on paper, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who recommends using Vitamin D2 to meet the minimum requirement. 
Formulating a diet is more than simply making sure it hits the proper nutrient levels, and that is ultimately what you are paying for when purchasing a diet/ration formulation.

The problem with nutrient deficiencies is that they take a long time to develop. This is part of the reason why AAFCO feeding trials are ultimately inadequate at assessing the long-term impact of a diet, especially when the food is being fed for life.

That is why we have also compiled this list. This list will be updated periodically.

The list is of the various courses, certificates or diplomas, and the website of the organization that issues them. Some of them are much more common than others. We have included the acronym for the ones I have seen abbreviated. I urge all pet parents to look at these organizations and what is required to receive the certificate or diploma.

That way, when you see a title or acronym, you know what it actually means or represents, and you can decide for yourself what value to place on the diploma or certificate.

I would love for the ACVN and the ESVCN to create some type of associate membership or certification and testing process so that consumers could be more confident. This, however is unlikely to happen for several reasons, even though the demand for nutritional consults likely far outstrips the availability that Veterinary Nutritionists could reasonably provide.

That being said, just because someone graduated from MIT with their Ph.D. in computer science doesn’t necessarily mean they are smarter or better than the person who graduated from Georgia Tech.

    • Pet Food Nutrition Specialist-PFNS
    • Raw Dog Food Nutrition Specialist
    • Acute Canine Herbalism Specialist
    • Acute Canine Homeopathy Specialist
    • Advanced Canine Nutrition Specialist
    • Canine Essential Oils Specialist
    • Canine Nutrition Certificate- (Cert.CN)
    • Advanced Canine Nutrition Certificate- (Cert.ACN)
    • Diploma in Canine Nutrition- Dip. CN
    • Diploma in Raw Feeding
    • Canine Nutrition Certificate Course
    • Canine Nutrition & Health
    • Canine Nutrition Certification- CNC
    • Clinical Pet Nutritionist- CPN
    • Feline Nutrition Certification- FNC
    • Pet Master Herbalist
    • Pet Homeopathic Educator
    • Pet Clinical Aromatherapist
    • Pet Aromatherapy Educator
    • Canine Nutrition Diploma Course
    • Canine Holistic Health & Therapy Diploma Course