While you might have considered becoming a licensed nutritionist or a registered dietitian with the intention to work with human clients, some nutritionists have a different prospective audience in mind. Veterinary nutritionists are specialists in animal nutrition. Nutrition is just as important to the health and wellness of animals as it is in humans. The pathway towards becoming a veterinary nutritionist is quite different from that for aspiring nutritionists or dietitians treating humans. Here, we will discuss how to become a veterinary nutritionist.
Job Description for Veterinary Nutritionist
Sometimes referred to as an animal nutritionist, a veterinary nutritionist holds the responsibility of creating and balancing nutrition to make sure that an animal’s dietary needs are met. Responsibilities usually include:
- Considering the nutritional needs of different species and formulate food rations in a balanced manner based upon those needs
- Assess the nutritional and caloric requirements of an animal based upon their physical condition and type of physical activity (including performance, reproduction, lactation or nutritional deficiencies resulting from prior neglect)
- Perform physical and visual assessment of the animal from the vertebrae to its muscle structure
- Use an assessment called body condition scoring to determine what adjustments should be made to an animal’s diet
- Work in cooperation with veterinarians, veterinary technicians, wildlife rehabilitators, zookeepers and other animal health professionals on research and educational activities
Animal nutritionists may work with a specific group of animals, like livestock or companion animals, or only with one or a few species, such as dogs, cats, or horses.
Skills that are important for a veterinary or animal nutritionist to have include (but are not limited to):
- Interpersonal communication skills, to explain to others why certain nutrition rations have been chosen for the animals they are dealing with
- Good critical thinking skills, to determine the best way to meet an animal’s nutritional needs
- Math skills, to calculate food ratios, body condition and composition and more
Education for Veterinary Nutritionists
Veterinary nutritionists need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree to enter the field in an entry-level position. A degree in animal nutrition is ideal, but other veterinary nutritionists hold degrees in animal science, biology and biochemistry. For supervisory, research and teaching positions, a graduate degree is usually desirable.
Examples of some schools across the country that offer degrees in animal nutrition include (but are not limited to):
- Colorado State University – Certificate in Animal Nutrition – for students majoring in Bachelor of Science in Animal Science
- Mississippi State University – Master of Science in Agriculture, Concentration in Animal Nutrition
- Cornell University – Master of Professional Studies in Animal Nutrition
- University of Illinois – Companion Animal Nutrition Certificate
- Iowa State University – Master of Science in Animal Nutrition
The following bachelors and Master’s programs offer career-focused instruction delivered by trained nutritionists with experience in the field. Find out more what each individual course of study offers through the locations below.
Purdue University Global's Bachelor of Science in Nutrition Program is an approved holistic nutrition education program through the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP).
UNC's MPH Nutrition concentration prepares students to provide, evaluate and communicate nutritional and dietary guidance that improves individual and population-wide health outcomes. In addition to developing their knowledge of nutrition science, students will explore behavior change, communication, counseling and the effects of dietary culture on individuals and communities.
Arizona State University's Nutrition Bachelors and Masters level programs online prepare students for careers in Health Education, Community Health, Food Analysis and more.
George Washington University's Online Master's in Integrative Medicine with a Concentration in Nutrition specialize in promoting health and wellness through nutrition.
American University’s online Master of Science in Nutrition Education will prepare you to become an influential leader in nutrition education and advocacy while promoting nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices in your community and beyond.
Spring Hill College’s flexible, convenient online MPH program will prepare you to be a leader in the public health infrastructure of our nation.
Ashworth College's nationally accredited online nutrition course is a self-paced career diploma that can build your confidence in diet, nutrition basics, and more.
Veterinary Nutritionists Certification and Licensing
There are two major certification organizations for veterinary or animal nutritionists:
- American College of Veterinary Nutrition – if you want to become a Board-Certified Veterinary Nutritionist (BCVN), this is the certification to pursue. Some veterinarians pursue this certification to add to their credentials. For those who are not already veterinarians, after completion of a veterinary/animal science degree, you must complete a two-year residency under the supervision of a BCVN.
- Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians – If you are a veterinary technician who wishes to become certified in nutrition, this is the certification to pursue. Once you have graduated from an AVMA-approved veterinary technician program and/or are a licensed technician, you must complete three years/4000 hours of work experience in the field, 40 hours of continuing education in animal nutrition, and documentation of advanced clinical or research experience. You must also pass a certification exam.
Employment Projections for Veterinary Nutritionists
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that jobs for agricultural and food scientists, a category in which veterinary nutritionists are included, will increase by six percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average expected increase for other occupations. The top industries currently employing animal scientists are:
- Wholesale trade
- Professional, scientific and technical services
- Management of companies and enterprises
- Educational services
Salaries for Veterinary Nutritionists
According to Salary.com, the average salary for an animal nutritionist as of 2020 is in the range of $65,519 to $82,420. Salary is dependent upon location, job level, experience, education and skills.
Professional Organizations for Veterinary Nutritionists
Once you have earned certification as a veterinary nutritionist or veterinary nutrition technician, you might want to consider joining one of the following professional organizations for networking, continuing education and more: