It's a question that leaves so many veterinarians squirming and searching for just the right answer: "So, Doc, what should I feed my pet?"
PHOTO: SHAWN STIGSELL/ZAC BENTZ
It's a commonly held belief in the profession that, by and large, students don't receive adequate nutritional training and education in veterinary school. Dr. Rebecca Remillard, DVM, a clinical veterinarian of small and large animal nutrition at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, certainly recognizes this and notes that there's a gap between what's taught in school and what students will face "in the real world" as practitioners, particularly when it comes to small animals.
"Veterinary schools have always brought over nutritionists from the animal science departments," Dr. Remillard says. "Traditionally, they haven't gotten into small animal nutrition."
While it may be true that there's a void to fill in schools, no one argues that as an excuse for not knowing more on the topic. "We're not exposed to a lot of nutrition in school," says Dr. Ernie Ward, a Veterinary Economics board member and author of Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter. "But I argue that we're not exposed in depth to a lot of things we practice every day."
What's a DVM to do?
Dr. Remillard says that while conferences typically offer some sort of continuing education courses in nutrition, they're often poorly attended. "Nutrition doesn't pay in practice," she says. "Veterinarians would rather go to a session on endoscopy or dentistry—something they'll see a return on. They admit that nutrition is good medicine, but it doesn't pay."
Often veterinarians come to rely on sales representatives from pet food companies as their primary source of nutritional education. Dr. Remillard believes that most representatives—particularly ones who are also veterinarians—do an excellent job of educating veterinarians and their staff about new research and advancements in nutrition. "The subject matter will be driven by whatever the product is that they want to sell, but the actual information they give is quite good," she says.
What do your clients really want?
But is it possible that veterinarians are relying too heavily on the pet food companies? Dr. Ward thinks so. "Veterinarians are often so busy and stressed, we think we just need to hit the 'easy button' on this one," he says. "We bring in the sales reps and ask them to tell us what we need to know."
But he's concerned that by taking this path of least resistance, veterinarians often receive information that's muddied with too much corporate detail and fails to deliver the whole story. So what's his solution? Just go back to basics.