Frequently Asked Questions

What is a veterinary nutritionist?

Veterinary nutritionists are Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN). They are veterinarians who are board certified specialists in veterinary nutrition. Training involves intensive clinical, teaching, and research activities spanning at least two years. Trainees also are required to pass a written examination in order to obtain board certification.

Veterinary nutritionists are specialists that are uniquely trained in the nutritional management of both healthy animals and those with one or more diseases. Nutrition is critically important to maintain optimal health and ensure optimal performance, as well as to manage the symptoms and progression of specific diseases. Veterinary nutritionists are qualified to formulate commercial foods and supplements, formulate home-prepared diets, manage the complex medical and nutritional needs of individual animals, and understand the underlying causes and implications of specific nutritional strategies that are used to prevent and treat diseases.

Veterinary nutritionists may be involved in a variety of different activities, including conducting research, taking care of patients, consulting with veterinarians, owners, or industry, and teaching. Veterinary nutritionists work in a variety of different environments, including veterinary schools, pet food or drug companies, government agencies, or private veterinary hospitals. Some run their own businesses.


What are the qualifications and requirements for becoming board certified in veterinary nutrition?

The residency training program in veterinary nutrition is extensive. After achieving a degree in veterinary medicine and completing at least 1 year of internship or clinical experience, residency training includes at least 2 years of study, with a focus on both basic and clinical nutrition as well as research and teaching. Trainees study under the mentorship of at least one boarded veterinary nutritionist and often with contact with many others over the course of the program. Some programs also require graduate level coursework and rotation with other specialists (such as Internal Medicine, Critical Care, and Clinical Pathology). Trainees must prepare and write up three case reports to qualify to take the board exam. The two day written examination is offered annually and covers a wide range of nutritional and medical knowledge.

For more detailed information regarding residency programs for veterinarians interested in training for board certification, please see our page at:


How do I contact and consult with a veterinary nutritionist?

If you would like to work directly with a veterinary nutritionist to develop a customized home cooked diet for your pet, produce and market a pet product, or consult on any other issue, please visit our Diplomate Directory at:

Our administrative assistant can be contacted with other questions at:


How do I find a veterinary nutritionist to interview or speak at my event?

Please contact our administrative assistant at:


Is there a nutrition certification for veterinary technicians and assistants?

The ACVN does not offer certification for technicians or assistants. However, there are organizations with a veterinary nutrition focus open to technicians and assistants: American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition( and Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians ( There are also training programs managed by private pet food companies.


How do I choose the best food for my pet?

Your pet is an individual, and it is very likely that many food choices are available. Your veterinarian is the best source of information regarding the appropriate diet for your specific pet. Many factors are involved in choosing a food, including economics, availability, any health issues that may need to be addressed with diet, your pet’s preference, and your personal philosophies. For more information, see the following article:

Nutritional Assessment Guidelines for Dogs and Cats


How do I know how much to feed my pet?

While there are ways to calculate the assumed requirements of an average dog or cat, the exact calorie needs of any individual pet depend on genetics, environment, activity level, and life stage. It is important to keep in mind that foods vary widely in energy density, with different kibbles ranging from below 300 to more than 700 Calories per cup! The calorie content of the specific food you are using should be determined in order to avoid over- or underfeeding. In some cases, this information will be on the label of the pet food. If not, you can call the company for this information or find it on their website. The prevention of obesity is very important for maximizing the health and lifespan of your pet. You should regularly evaluate your pet to ensure a proper body condition. Your veterinarian can help you determine the proper weight for your individual pet. However, for ensuring that your pet is in optimal body condition, you should easily be able to feel the ribs, and your pet should have an hourglass shape when viewed from above. There are body condition score charts in the following article:

Nutritional Assessment Guidelines for Dogs and Cats


What do pet food label terms such as natural, holistic, premium, and human grade mean?

Many of the terms used to describe pet foods on labels and in advertising materials are not legally defined. For example, there is no regulatory meaning for the terms holistic, premium, ultra- or super-premium, gourmet, or human grade. The term “human grade” in particular is used frequently; however, there is no official definition and pet foods are manufactured under FDA authority, and not subject to USDA inspection as are human foods. Interpretation and use of the term is variable and the definition is therefore dependent on the philosophy and marketing strategies of the individual manufacturer.

Unlike foods for human consumption and feeds intended for food-producing animals, there are no regulations in place for “organic” pet foods at this time.  Until such regulations are in place, those for human foods are being applied to pet foods.

The term “natural” does have a legal meaning when applied to a food or ingredient, which is defined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) as:

“derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subject to physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification, extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis or fermentation, but not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts as might occur unavoidably in good manufacturing practices.”

AAFCO specifies that the term is used only to describe products for which all of the ingredients and components of ingredients meet this definition. An exception is made to allow the use of chemically synthesized vitamins, minerals, or other trace nutrients to allow the food to be nutritionally complete and balanced; however, a disclaimer must be present.


Are raw pet foods better than canned or kibble foods?

Raw diets, both home-prepared and commercial, have become more popular. Advocates of raw diets claim benefits ranging from improved longevity to superior oral or general health and even disease resolution (especially gastrointestinal disease). Often the benefits of providing natural enzymes and other substances that may be altered or destroyed by cooking are also cited. However, proof for these purported benefits is currently restricted to testimonials, and no published peer-reviewed studies exist to support claims made by raw diet advocates. No studies have examined differences in animals fed raw animal products to those fed any other type of diet (kibble, canned, or home cooked) with the exception of looking at the effects on digestibility. Typically raw meats (but not other uncooked foods like grains or starches) are slightly more digestible than cooked meat.

There are risks and concerns associated with the feeding of raw diets. One of these is the risk of nutritional imbalances, which is a reality for both home-prepared and commercial raw meat diets. Another important risk is related to bacterial or parasitic contamination. Of course, food poisoning is also a major concern for people, and the public health aspects of feeding raw foods to pets cannot be overlooked. Safe and proper handling of raw foods is crucial for reducing the risk, but safety cannot be guaranteed. At this time, the vast majority of purported benefits of feeding raw foods remain unproven, while the risks and consequences have been documented. It is best to discuss the choice of feeding raw foods with your veterinarian so that an informed decision can be made with regard to your pet’s diet.


Are commercially available pet foods safe and healthful

Commercially available pet foods have been used successfully for years. There are many kinds of foods available, from canned to dry. Some are complete and balanced and others are meant for supplemental or intermittent feeding. Safety problems (with regard to both nutritional adequacy and toxin/microbiological contamination) are occasionally documented in both commercial foods as well as home-prepared human foods. Most manufacturers utilize sophisticated mechanisms for quality control and food safety, including screening and reporting systems. As such, commercial foods remain a consistent, safe, and healthful option for feeding pets.


Which supplements should I add to my pets food?

If your pet is eating a complete and balanced commercially available pet food, supplements are not recommended unless specifically prescribed by your veterinarian. This reduces the chances of excesses and adverse nutrient or medication interactions. Talk to your veterinarian if you are interested in using a particular supplement for your pet, and keep your veterinarian informed if you are giving your pet any supplement. This is important information for him or her in order to be able to optimally care for your pet.


Is preparing my pets food at home better than buying commercial foods?

Some owners with pets that have particular health problems may wish to participate in the management of their pet’s condition by providing a home cooked diet, even if a commercially available diet would be appropriate. These owners may have a belief that a home cooked diet is safer, more natural, or more healthful than a commercially available diet. They may wish to avoid certain ingredients (such as grains, chemical preservatives, or by-products) or to include certain ingredients (such as specific protein or fat sources). Other owners wish to feed their pets according to their own philosophical views, and choose home prepared diets that are vegetarian, organic, or raw.

Another common reason owners feed a home cooked diet is when a pet refuses commercially available diets. In some pets, this is a learned behavior while in others it may be the result of a food aversion secondary to a disease condition (such as kidney failure). Finally, pets may have a particular combination of diseases for which no suitable commercial diet exists. In these cases, a home prepared diet can be an appropriate solution.

In general, home prepared diets are more expensive than commercially available diets. Of course, they are also more time consuming to prepare. There are many recipes for home prepared pet diets available on the Internet and in books; however, the vast majority of these are inadequate and unbalanced. The recipes are either vague in instruction, contain errors or omissions in formulation, incorporate potentially problematic ingredients, or feature outdated strategies for addressing specific disease conditions. They may also lack specificity about the exact amount to feed a particular size of pet. If you wish to prepare your pet’s food at home, consider getting a customized recipe and consultation with a board certified veterinary nutritionist.


Are there foods that I shouldn’t feed my pet?

There are many foods that should not be fed to pets because they are toxic or because they may cause other health problems. Examples include very high fat items such as chicken skin, grapes and raisins, bread dough, macadamia nuts, chocolate, garlic, onions, and foods artificially sweetened with xylitol. More information can be found here: