What Does a Veterinary Nutritionist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image shows a veterinarian feeding a medium sized-dog. Text reads:

Image by Melissa Ling © The Balance 2019

Veterinary nutritionists are veterinarians who have been board certified to practice medicine with a focus on the specialty area of animal nutrition. This is one of the specialties in which veterinarians can become board-certified diplomates. Veterinary nutritionists can specialize even further by working with one particular species or a specific category, such as small animals or large animals.

Veterinary Nutritionist Duties & Responsibilities

This occupation generally requires the ability to perform the following tasks and duties:

  • Evaluate body condition.
  • Formulate diets.
  • Create special diets to prevent and manage diseases.
  • Balance complete rations.
  • Oversee veterinary nutrition technicians.
  • Provide specialty consultations.

Special diets can help prevent and manage diseases, and complete rations are important for performance and production. Veterinarians might also seek guidance from nutritionists for assistance with a particular animal or product.

Veterinary nutritionists may have additional teaching and advisory duties when they work as lecturers at veterinary colleges. Corporate researchers will also have additional duties related to product development, nutritional analysis, and clinical trials.

Veterinary nutritionists might also give lectures for professional continuing education credits, or to educate members of the public about nutritional topics.

Veterinary Nutritionist Salary

Veterinary nutrition is among the top-paying specialties. Many diplomats command top salaries from corporate entities, such as feed and supplement manufacturers. Aspiring veterinary nutritionists earn salaries while completing their residencies, although this compensation is generally much less than a veterinarian can expect to earn in clinical practice.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't separate specific salary data for individual veterinary specialties, but board-certified specialists earn top salaries due to their extensive experience and qualifications. The incomes for veterinarians in 2018 were:

  • Median Annual Salary: $93,830 ($45.11/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $162,450 ($78.10/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $56,540 ($27.18/hour)

As with all professions, there might be out-of-pocket costs for veterinary nutritionists, including travel expenses, ongoing education, and equipment replacement for those who are self-employed.

Education, Training & Certification

This occupation requires extensive schooling and certification.

  • Education: Veterinary nutritionists must first be accepted into an accredited veterinary college to complete their Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree.
  • Internship and Residency: Three years of training must include at least one year of internship or clinical experience and two years of residency, consisting of a combination of teaching, research, and clinical practice of veterinary nutrition.
  • Board Certification: After completing their DVMs and becoming licensed practitioners, veterinarians begin the path to board certification in the specialty field of nutrition. A veterinarian must fulfill all prerequisites to be eligible to take the board certification exam in the specialty of nutrition. In addition to three years of training, a candidate must submit three detailed case study reports for evaluation. After passing the comprehensive board certification exam administered by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN), a veterinarian will be granted diplomate status in the specialty of nutrition.
  • Continuing Education: Diplomates must complete continuing education credits each year to maintain their board-certified status. These credits can be satisfied through attendance at lectures or specialty conventions.

Veterinary Nutritionist Skills & Competencies

Certain qualities and skills will help you succeed as a veterinary nutritionist:

  • Analytical skills: To ascertain animals' needs based upon evidence including test results and visual and tactile examinations.
  • Decision-making skills: To determine the best course of treatment and diet based on findings.
  • Compassion: A capacity for empathy and compassion, both for patients and for their owners, who might be faced with difficult treatment decisions.
  • Communication skills: To kindly convey findings and recommendations to animal owners and accurately explain prognoses and dietary plans to staff and coworkers.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates job growth for veterinarians in general at about 19% through 2026 as more animal owners begin to spend on the finer points of pet health care. This is faster than average for all occupations.

The demanding nature of specialist training programs and the difficulty of board certification examinations ensure that only a handful of professionals achieve board certification each year. Demand for veterinary nutritionists will only be enhanced by the scarcity of board-certified professionals in this particular veterinary specialty.

Work Environment

Veterinary nutritionists might work in corporate positions with animal feed or supplement manufacturers, in research laboratories, or in academia. Those who treat patients might find themselves working in veterinary clinics or hospitals. The occupation can involve traveling to patients if the nutritionist specializes in larger animals.

There's some element of danger involved. Like all veterinarians, the veterinary nutritionist might be bitten, scratched, kicked, or otherwise harmed by aggressive or frightened animals during an exam.

Work Schedule

This is typically a full-time job and can require additional hours, although overtime is more commonplace for veterinarians who treat animals on an emergency basis.

How to Get the Job

FIND AN INTERNSHIP

The American College of Veterinary Nutrition provides periodic listings of available internships and externships.

FIND A RESIDENCY

Several colleges and universities offer residency programs, including Ohio State University.

WRITE A GREAT COVER LETTER

The American Veterinary Medical Association provides some guidance so you can be sure to cover all necessary information.

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