How To Choose a Canine Nutritionist

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

People looking for someone to formulate a balanced home-prepared diet (raw, or cooked) for their dog, or who want to feed a combination of kibble, or raw foods as well as fresh foods often do a search for these terms:

Canine nutritionist, dog nutritionist, canine nutrition consultant, canine raw feeding consultant, raw feeding specialist, nutrition advisor, and perhaps others. Trying to sort through the titles people may use to define themselves can be confusing. Here are some facts to help you out.


Veterinary nutritionists are veterinarians who have studied animal nutrition for years before having to take a specialized exam. They are then ACVN Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist (PhD, DVM, DACVN), and often work in animal hospitals, zoos, and sometimes in private practice.


The other terms may be used by a variety of people who have, or have not actually studied, or had mentors in the field. It’s a bit of the Wild West out there right now, and that’s because there are many online courses – from those that base their information on science, to others that appeal to a fan base and promote a specific method of feeding, to people who took a course and use that as a launch pad for teaching courses themselves.


The hiccup in the case of catering to a fan base is that favoring a feeding method is a personal decision and shouldn’t be confused with a professional one. It really should be about a feeding history, state of health, and the owner’s preference and the dog’s tolerance of that preference.


Canine nutritionists, and dog nutritionists are the most familiar terms to dog owners.  Full disclosure: we do this work, and while I’ve been doing it for about 20 years, and Jody has experience, we refer to ourselves as consultants who formulate diets for dogs in health and disease, and of course for puppies as well. That said, many of our clients do refer to us as canine nutritionists when referring friends.


Once your search gives you some options, it’s wise to consider details. Using 400 hours as just an example of what studies someone might claim, the reality is that it translates to 50 days.


Another reality – stating that studies were for 2 years (or more) doesn’t always mean the course was truly that long. Many online courses are offered as studying you can do at your own pace. So, one person may take two years, and another only six months.


The real questions are who taught the course and where did they study? What qualifications did the professor/teacher have? An academic degree is a qualification awarded to students upon successful completion of a course of study in higher education, normally at a college or university. Because there are so many online “colleges”, having a degree may not mean what you believe it should.


Does the person with a Masters, or PhD acknowledge the school it came from? If not, you might consider it a red flag.


How much experience has the person had in formulating diets for a variety of diseases. What about dogs with multiple diseases? Even the basics should include Cancers, Skin and Coat, Kidney, Liver, Heart diseases, Diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, Joint Support, and various Life Stages.


I should mention that my own certification is from University of Guelph, but the courses I took are no longer offered. I get questioned about that maybe 1-2 times per year, and frankly, I like that people ask because it means they’ve thought everything through. Fortunately, I have a hard copy to present when needed, and the university provided a statement for me as well.


Having mentors can make a wonderful difference in education as well. I happened to luck out by having Ana Grum DVM, PhD take me under her wing.  Her incredible knowledge combined with a gift for teaching were instrumental.  Susan G. Wynn, DVM, DACVN has been a great mentor as well, and edited the first edition of my K9Kitchen book. Pinch me!


Lastly, I don’t mean to be negative and do understand that most people have good intentions when they take courses. I’m bringing attention to this subject because there is a dog attached to the final decision.