Just like any living creature, an animal's diet can significantly impact its performance. Whether it's to improve athletic ability, or to combat disease or other physical ailments, the job of studying the nutritional value and dietary restrictions for animals falls on veterinary specialists, known as nutritionists. However, unlike their human counterparts, the educational and career path options for Veterinary Nutritionists is complex and requires several years of advanced training.
What is a Veterinary Nutritionist?
A veterinary nutritionist is a board certified Doctor of Veterinary Medicine that specializes in the area of animal nutrition. This is significantly different from human nutritionists — who by definition do not require advanced training — that would fall on a Registered Dietitian. Some of the typical job duties of a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist includes:
It's also typical for veterinary nutritionists to find employment as nutritional analysts with private pet food companies, pharmaceuticals, and public zoos. There a select group of veterinary nutritionists that provide lecture services at veterinary colleges and eventually matriculate to become instructors themselves. This specialty is one that allows candidates to select different categories of animal groups — choosing between large animals, small animals, and equine animals.
The Educational Requirements for Becoming a Veterinary Nutritionist
The educational path to becoming a Veterinary Nutritionist begins by completing a Bachelor Degree, proceeding to Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and eventually board certification. The board certification and residency process is monitored and administered by The American College of Veterinary Nutrition.
Step by Step Educational Path of a Veterinary Nutritionist
Pre-Graduate School Bachelor Degree
Having a general understanding of food, nutrition, and biological sciences of animal species is the focal point of the first phase of education for becoming a Veterinary Nutritionist. The first degree required is a bachelor degree, which must be completed at an accredited college or university. The primary course study will include a strong focus on general nutrition, mathematics, communications, and biological sciences; such as physiology, biology, chemistry and physics. It's also during this phase of education that a potential veterinary nutritionist should consider enrolling in case-study research, or volunteering in local animal shelters, clinics or hospitals. This will give the candidate additional experience and hands-on experience that not only improves their resume — but offers practical knowledge that they can apply later in their educational process.
Earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Becoming a licensed Doctor of Veterinary Medicine is the next step in the educational track for a Veterinary Nutritionist. And, like any other Veterinarian, the nutritionist will receive this degree from an accredited Veterinary College. This will include a four-year program, in which the first two years will deal with general animal virology, anatomy, physiology, and nutrition.
During the third and fourth years, the classroom study morphs into clinical application, where the Veterinary student will be given the opportunity to increase their base of knowledge and practice what they've learned in the classroom, in a clinical setting. After the educational process is complete, the candidate will take the licensing North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. They must pass this exam to be considered a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). Most states require additional certification to practice in each state.
Complete a Veterinary Nutritionist Residency Program
Once a candidate has become a licensed DVM, the newly-crowned Veterinarian will begin their career path to focus on residency training — and finally; board certification in the specialty of nutrition. However, before one is able to sit before the board for certification and testing, they must fill three requirements:
Once the candidate passes the exam and fulfills the other requirements, they are granted diplomate status in the specialty of Veterinary Nutrition. According to the ACVN, there were a total of 81 ACVN board certified diplomats as of December of 2012.
Unlike other specialties, however, diplomats of the ACVN must continually add educational credits on an annual basis to maintain their board certified status. The credits can be earned by attending lectures, conferences, and completing case study research.
Understanding the Career Path of Becoming a Veterinary Nutritionist
Career Options for Veterinary Nutritionists
The field of Veterinary Nutrition is one that offers multiple employment opportunities for the qualified candidate. Once receiving board certification, a newly anointed Veterinarian Nutritionist may choose to follow specialties in three animal sections:
In general, the career options for nutritionists include working in private veterinary practices or hospitals, seeking employment with manufacturers of animal feed or supplements, zoos, and educational research facilities, or within academia.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the profession of Veterinary Nutritionist is one of the more lucrative in the Veterinary industry. A survey completed in 2007 by the American Veterinary Medical Association indicated that in many cases, Veterinary Nutritionists pulled in nearly $200,000 in annual salary. This was primarily for board certified diplomats that worked for corporate companies, ranging from pharmaceutical to animal feed and supplement manufacturers. Those who choose to work in private practice tend to have reduced salaries. However, the BLS does not have accurate data to share.
An interesting fact is that many aspiring veterinary nutritionists can earn an average salary ranging from $25,000 to $35,000 per year during residency training.
The career outlook for Veterinary Nutritionists is very optimistic. According to the BLS, the entire Veterinary profession looks to increase by a factor of 35 percent within the next five years. This type of growth rate is very rare in any medical industry. Contributing factors include:
The career path of becoming a Veterinary Nutritionist is not a simple one to navigate. However, when a candidate is determined, has a structured educational plan in place and the right attitude to complete the challenging curriculum; achieving success in this profession is very possible. It's also a profession that can be financially lucrative and personally rewarding — especially for individuals who are predisposed to helping animals improve their quality of life.