3 excuses I’ve heard from veterinarians scared to talk about nutrition

3 excuses I’ve heard from veterinarians scared to talk about nutrition

You don’t have to be a nutritionist, run long in every appointment or shill for pet food companies.
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Mar 10, 2015

Patient nutrition can be the 800-pound gorilla in the exam room. Here’s why your excuses for avoiding talking about diet and nutrition aren’t cutting it.

No. 1: You didn’t get much nutrition training in school

You don’t need to be a veterinary cardiologist to talk about heart murmurs, and you shouldn’t be afraid to talk about nutrition with your clients either. Sure, maybe you attended a veterinary school that didn’t have someone to teach a nutrition course (though it should have), or maybe you graduated before the nutrition program was integrated into your alma mater.

Lisa Weeth, DVM, MRVCS, DACVNHowever, even if you didn’t have the opportunity to take a class specifically titled “Nutrition” taught by a Diplomate of the American Colleges of Veterinary Nutrition or a European Diplomate in Nutrition or someone with a PhD in Animal Nutrition, you received nutrition training slipped into other courses.

Biochemistry, physiology and internal medicine all largely involve normal and abnormal nutrient interactions within the body (i.e., nutrition). Even without counting the increasing availability of nutrition topics at veterinary conferences, you’ve definitely received more nutrition training than the sales clerk at the pet store or the owner’s friend from the dog park.

No. 2: You just can’t fit one more thing into appointments

I get it. When I was in general practice, my appointments were scheduled every 20 minutes. I was constantly running behind, because even a routine wellness appointment could get derailed if I found something during the exam that needed to be addressed that day or at least discussed, and diagnostics were planned for a later date. Talking about diet seems like the one thing that can get pushed aside, right?

But what if that dog’s dramatic weight loss is because the owner changed brands of food, but he kept the volume the same and is now unknowingly feeding 400 calories less each day? Or what if that cat with suspected food allergies is still itching on the limited-ingredient therapeutic diet because the owner never stopped feeding the cat’s favorite over-the-counter treats?

I love talking with pet owners about nutrition and was happy to see both of these cases as real referrals, especially since they had such straight-forward fixes to problems (“feed more” and “stop feeding those treats,” respectively.) However, in situations like these, I would rather that you looked like a superstar instead of me.

No. 3: You don’t want to sound like a pet-food salesperson

Guess what? You are selling a product every time you talk to a pet owner in an exam room, whether it’s your palpation skills or an aspirate of a suspicious lump. Commercially available diets for healthy animals or those with chronic conditions are just other tools in your arsenal against death and disease.

Discussing the importance of specific diet changes, irrespective of brand or feeding strategy (home-cooked or commercially available), will help educate clients against the well-meaning but ill-informed advice they’re bombarded with outside of your clinic. You’re not “selling a food”—you’re improving your patient’s health and wellness through specific diet modifications.

Lisa Weeth, DVM, MRVCS, DACVN, is a veterinary nutrition consultant in Edinburgh, United Kingdom. She consults in the UK and the United States.