the American Animal Hospital Association and World Small Animal Veterinary Association have recently published guidelines for the nutritional assessment
of pets as part of routine physical examinations. The role of nutrition in animal
health has long been a very important but often underutilized component of
veterinary medicine. These guidelines recognize the vital role of nutrition in
promoting optimal health and response to disease and will help veterinary
practitioners use their training and skills in evaluating the nutritional
status of their patients.
interconnectivity of veterinary medicine and nutrition is not a new concept. The
American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition, the very first allied association to
the American Veterinary Medical Association, was founded in 1956 to facilitate discussions
of mutual interest to veterinarians and animal nutritionists. The American College of Veterinary Nutrition was founded in 1988 to advance the specialty
area of veterinary nutrition and increase the competence of those who practice
in the field.
the 60-plus diplomates currently in ACVN, over three-quarters of them are
primarily involved in small animal (particularly dog and cat) nutrition. Most
of those are academicians who help train many of the newly graduating
veterinarians, but a number are involved in the petfood industry as well.
mission of AAHA is to promote and recognize high standards in veterinary
practice and quality pet care, primarily in the US and Canada. WSAVA is described
as an association of associations, a common global link for many veterinary
groups. Its primary purpose is to advance the quality and availability of small
animal medicine and surgery all over the world.
organizations are involved in many issues relating to veterinary medicine. With
such full agendas, it is notable that nutrition has been recognized by both
groups as a critical component of overall pet care.
guidelines of WSAVA were largely based on those developed by AAHA, so they are
very similar. Both association task forces that developed the respective
guidelines included ACVN diplomates.
guidelines emphasize a three-prong approach to nutritional assessment as
recommended by ACVN in its “Circle of Nutrition” precept. Of course, nutritional
assessment must include evaluation of the pet’s food. However, whether or not
the food meets certain standards is only one component. Equally important are
the individual nutritional needs of the patient and feeding management (i.e.,
how the food is fed to the animal). A deviation from the norm for any of these
components could have significant nutritional implications.
guidelines say a nutritional screening evaluation through routine history
taking and examination should be conducted on every animal. Healthy animals
with no nutritional risk factors may not need further evaluation, although
animals in more demanding life stages (e.g., growth, gestation/lactation,
senior) or conditions (e.g., very low or high activity, multiple pet
households) may require closer scrutiny.
risk factors in the history of the animal that may require an extended
factors found on physical exam that may prompt further evaluation include a low
or high body condition score, evidence of muscle wasting, dental anomalies and
poor skin or coat.
of the animal’s diet looks at all components—not only the mainstay petfood but
also treats, table scraps, supplements and chews. This includes review of the
label information, particularly the Association of American Feed Control Officials nutritional adequacy statement and other mandatory labeling. Assessment
of calorie content is considered a top priority, although it is noted that the
labeling may not include this information. (As a side note, AAHA was one of the
veterinary organizations that endorsed ACVN’s proposed amendment to the AAFCO
calorie content regulations.)
guidelines advise veterinarians regarding the role of labeling as “advertising”
and to be cautious about unregulated terms such as premium, holistic and human
grade. Unconventional diets (commercial or homemade) may require extra
scrutiny. Veterinarians should also consider the manufacturer’s reputation,
history and any objective (non-testimonial) data it provides to support use of
the food and be willing to call the company with any questions regarding the
product and its formulation, quality control and place of manufacture.
Foods suspected of being the cause of illness
should be tested for likely contaminants. Veterinarians are urged to contact
the feed control official in their state. The guidelines include links to AAFCO
and FDA websites, as well as sites for many other sources of useful
Read AAHA’s nutritional assessment guidelines online.
WSAVA’s guidelines here.
more columns by Dr. Dzanis.
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