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HOW TO: Select A Qualified Nutritionist

Updated: Mar 23, 2023



Despite the huge impact that nutrition can have on an animal’s health, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist - so how do you know if your nutritionist is qualified?


How to Assess Qualifications


STEP 1: Ask about their educational background


Standalone Online Certifications

  • These require only 100-1000 hours of training. In comparison, university educated nutritionists will have a minimum of 48 000 hours of training, plus research experience.

    • For further reference, hair stylists undergo 1500 hours of training.

  • While these can be a useful supplement on top of other qualifications, not all programs are created equally.

  • While some programs are run by veterinary organizations (ie, NAVC & WSAVA), many of these are created by people who themselves lack animal nutrition qualifications, and as such, can foster a lot of misinformation due to misinterpretation or misrepresentation of concepts or research data.

  • Beware “Clinical Pet/Equine Nutritionist” and “Nutrition Specialist” if the nutritionist does not have any veterinary qualifications, as common online courses (or “academies”) who offer these certification titles are taught by professors with no formal Animal Science or Animal Nutrition education.


University Background (look for MSc & PhD in their credentials, on top of their Bachelor’s degree)

  • Take advanced courses on animal metabolism and nutrition, critically assess research findings and conduct their own research projects.

  • Nutritionists with a science background will be able to interpret results from literature and overlay these results with their knowledge behind metabolic pathways and nutrition requirements.

  • University educated nutritionists will have at least 48 000 hours of training (4 years Bachelor’s degree, MSc degrees are 1.5-2 years in length), with those with a PhD having easily double that (3-5+ years for a PhD).


Veterinary Background - Veterinarian, Veterinary Nutritionist, Veterinary Tech Specialist (look for DVM, ACVN or VTS in their credentials)

  • Veterinary professionals need to be board certified, and not only do they undergo thorough examinations, they also need to have years of clinical experience.



STEP 2: Assess how they speak about animal nutrition, their services, and their recommendations.


Red Flags:


  • Sales pitch: nutrition consults should not sound like a sales pitch, it should be focused on critically assessing the current situation and the animal’s needs.

  • Talks excessively about “fillers” or recommends you avoid an ingredient, without giving a sound, science-backed reason why. As science advances, we’ve learned that some previously used ingredients may not be best practice, however fear-mongering and misplaced avoidance of certain feedstuffs can actually contribute to nutritional deficiencies, imbalances and GI disturbances. You should leave a nutrition consultation feeling informed, not scared.

  • Recommends a product that will “cure” or “treat” an issue shortly after hearing about it, without going much in depth about the issue - this means the root of the issue may not be addressed. In some circumstances, that product may act as a band-aid, but in others, it can pose risks for your animal's health - this is especially the case for herbal or ‘homeopathic’ type supplements, as herb-nutrient and herb-drug interactions can negatively impact the health of your animal. If your nutritionist recommends a product without checking if your animal is on any other supplements, or medications, they likely are not equipped to effectively make product recommendations.

  • Talks poorly of vets/won’t work with your vet: veterinarians undergo a lot of formal education on animal physiology and body systems, and undergo continuing education to stay up to date with advancements in research. Downplaying their expertise is a major red flag, as it means the advanced & complex nature of animal metabolism and health is likely being oversimplified or disregarded.

Green Flags:

  • Asks a lot of info-gathering questions: your nutritionist’s goal should be to work with you, to help your animal, which means they listen to what you’re noticing and currently doing, and use their expertise to “connect the nutrition dots”. Not only are nutrition requirements multi-factorial, but so is animal health. An animal who may have stopped eating may not hate their food, they might have oral discomfort or the feed may be reaching expiration.

  • Appreciates the scientific method: this will allow the nutritionist to provide an unbiased opinion, as they consider the situation or product with a logical view. This can allow for recommendations that are more realistic, and more effective, as they are backed by scientific evidence.

  • Offers practical recommendations, by considering what you currently have available to you. They may start with tweaking a few aspects of the current diet, and suggesting a swap or addition of one product, but will formulate a diet to meet your animal’s needs, while still ensuring it is feasible and sustainable for you.

  • May recommend you consult your veterinarian/veterinary professional if an issue is beyond their scope. If a serious health concern is suspected, or there is a recurring one that is not responding to a diet change, a nutritionist who truly cares about your animal’s wellbeing will recommend you look into the issue in a more detailed manner.


Asking about their education background and noting how they speak about animal nutrition principles can help you identify whether that animal nutritionist is qualified to help you with your animal’s diet.


My Qualifications:

  • Honours Bachelor of Bio-Resource Management, majoring in Equine Management (Agricultural Science- & Business-based degree, 4 years).

  • Master of Science in Animal Biosciences, Animal Nutrition concentration, with a focus in Equine Physiology & Nutrition (Major Research Project-based degree, 1.5 years).

Additional:

  • Full C1 certification from Canadian Pony Club (Equine care and stable management-based leveling system).


If you’d like to hear more about my education and background prior to booking a nutrition consultation with me, feel free to contact me!


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