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The food bowl is the center of the universe for most pets. The whir of a can opener or the clatter of kibble tumbling onto a plate is enough to rouse any dog or cat from a dead sleep and send them bounding into the kitchen. When you think about it, does anything impact your pet’s health more, on a daily basis, than the food you feed it?

While the majority of dogs and cats do just fine when fed a complete and balanced commercial diet, there are some cases where you may want to seek the specialized advice of a pet nutritionist.

What is a veterinary nutritionist?

Just as some human doctors specialize in a particular type of medicine, from dermatology to surgery, these veterinarians select nutrition as their specialty. While your eyes may glaze over when you read about carbohydrates, proteins, essential fatty acids and other dietary ingredients, these doctors are fascinated by these topics.

After finishing four years of veterinary school, doctors must complete 1 year of general clinical experience and then an additional 2-3-year residency where they focus on the nutritional management of healthy pets and those with single or multiple diseases. To become board-certified, they must publish peer-reviewed research, write up detailed case reports and pass a grueling, 2 day written test.  At that point, they can add another title after their names: DACVN, which stands for Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.

Why consult a nutrition specialist?

There are several reasons why your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary nutritionist or you might seek a specialist’s advice on your own.

Your pet needs a therapeutic diet. Certain medical conditions, such as kidney or cardiac disease, benefit from a specialized, therapeutic diet. In some cases, there may be a commercial diet available by prescription but your pet does not like the taste. If no commercial diet is available for your pet’s particular condition, a board-certified nutritionist can tailor one to your pet’s needs.

Your pet has multiple medical conditions. Perhaps your pet has food allergies and chronic kidney disease, for example. Again, a nutritionist can develop a specially formulated diet to address both conditions.

Your pet needs to be fed through a tubeSome conditions, such as fatty liver disease in cats, may require a special liquid diet devised for a feeding tube.

You prefer a homemade diet. While there may be recipes for homemade diets on the internet, many of them are “generic” formulas that aren’t tailored to your pet and can be deficient in necessary nutrients. For the health of your pet, any homemade diet should be developed by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.

Your pet is carrying a few extra pounds. A nutritionist can develop a personalized weight loss plan that helps your pet lose the weight and keep it off.

You want to know more about your pet’s nutrition. If you’d like an expert to identify your pet’s specific nutritional needs and recommend an individualized feeding plan, a veterinary nutritionist is your best resource.

Interested in a consultation with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist? Just ask your veterinarian for a referral or consult the Diplomat Directory at

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.