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How to Become a Canine Nutritionist: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a canine nutritionist. Research the education and career requirements, licensure information, and experience required for starting a career in canine nutrition. View article »

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  • 0:04 Become a Canine Nutritionist
  • 1:37 Complete Your Education
  • 2:42 Obtain Licensure
  • 3:10 Complete a Nutrition Residency
  • 4:12 Get Certified
  • 5:06 Continue Your Education

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Video Transcript

Become a Canine Nutritionist

Canine nutritionists are veterinarians who offer dietary advising and diet-based treatments for dogs. They create weight control plans for dogs and teach owners how to properly feed their pets. Canine nutritionists might work for pet food manufacturers, offering consulting services or developing pet food supplements to help older or diseased dogs. Other possible employers include veterinary schools, animal hospitals, and government agencies. Additionally, some canine nutritionists are self-employed.

Canine nutritionists might work evening, weekend, holiday, and on-call hours to handle emergencies. Illness or injury is possible, since animals who are frightened or in pain might kick, bite, or scratch and some illnesses are contagious. Canine nutritionists who work in research or food safety might be required to travel. In general, veterinarians should be compassionate and have strong problem-solving, decision-making, management, and interpersonal skills, along with manual dexterity. They must have knowledge of canine anatomy and nutrition and be familiar with PAWS Veterinary Practice Management, InformaVet, ALIS-VET, Vetport, and Microsoft Office software.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterinarians in general made a mean annual salary of $99,000 as of May 2015. Let's look at a step-by-step guide to become a canine nutritionist.

Complete Your Education

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

While not always required, most veterinarians earn a bachelor's degree prior to enrolling in a veterinary medicine program. Prospective veterinarians should study biology, anatomy, chemistry, physiology, and zoology, so undergraduate students might benefit from majoring in a science-related field. Courses in math, humanities, and social sciences also might prove beneficial.

Aspiring canine nutritionists might choose to volunteer at an animal shelter or veterinary office to gain experience working with dogs. Volunteer experience also might help students stand out when applying to veterinary medicine programs.

Step 2: Enroll in a Veterinary Medicine Program

Specializing in veterinary nutrition for canines requires enrollment in a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program. The first 3 years of a veterinary medicine program typically are devoted to classroom, clinical, and laboratory instruction. During the final year, students participate in rotations at a veterinary hospital or medical center.

Obtain Licensure

Step 3: Obtain Licensure

After graduating from an accredited DVM program, aspiring veterinarians must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. Licensure candidates are tested on animal care, treatment, and diagnostics methods. Several states also administer exams covering state-specific laws and regulations for veterinary practice. In some instances, candidates must offer a practical demonstration of their proficiency in the field.

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Complete a Nutrition Residency

Step 4: Complete a Nutrition Residency

Nearly all D.V.M. programs include broad overview coursework about animal nutrition. To gain a more thorough education on canine nutrition, individuals can apply to clinical nutrition residency programs after earning a DVM degree. This includes one year of internship training followed by two years of residency in nutrition. Applicants must meet certain requirements, such as clinical experience. Not all residency programs require residents to be licensed veterinarians.

Individuals interested in canine nutrition should choose a program focused on dogs, such as a small animal nutrition residency program. While under the close supervision of board-certified nutritionists, residents examine and diagnose animal patients. Most programs also require residents to teach nutrition classes to pet owners as well as DVM students. Residents are encouraged to conduct research projects, such as examining how certain dog breeds react to different supplements.

Get Certified

Step 5: Get Certified

Veterinary nutritionists can earn a credential from the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN). Several residency programs are structured to help veterinarians prepare for the ACVN exam. Applicants wishing to become canine nutritionists should choose the small animal ACVN certification program.

Board certification through ACVN requires that applicants have a board-certified mentor guide them through the certification process, which includes showing documentation that they've met teaching and clinical experience requirements, completing at least three case reports, and publishing at least one article in a peer-reviewed journal. Applicants also must be licensed veterinarians prior to certification. Upon completing the application process, applicants must pass a two-day exam on veterinary and nutritional knowledge.

Continue Your Education

Step 6: Continue Your Education

Canine nutritionists must continue their education to renew licensure and certification. Continuing education opportunities are available through professional organizations, including the ACVN.

In summary, to become a canine nutritionist, you need to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and obtain state licensure. You should then complete a nutrition residency and earn board certification.

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