Top 5 Tips for Good Nutrition

Melanie Codi, LVT, CVT, VTS (Nutrition), Cornell University Veterinary Specialists

April 2016|Clinical|Peer Reviewed

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Top 5 Tips for Good Nutrition

Nutrition education should be communicated to every client for every patient at every practice visit.

All animals must eat to sustain life, so ensuring they receive correct nutrition in adequate amounts will help them lead a long, healthy life. Educating clients about appropriate nutrition may be daunting, but it is important because the veterinary team may be a client’s only source for nutritional recommendations and support.

Related Article: Quiz: Is Your Practice Nutrition-Friendly?

The following are the author’s top 5 considerations for ensuring all patients’ nutritional needs are met.


Take a Thorough Diet History

First, when making the appointment, ask clients to bring an empty container of their pet’s food or a picture of the packaging, which can help alleviate the ambiguity of responses such as, I feed the food in the blue bag. When they come for the appointment, ask clients to complete a short diet history form in the waiting area. During the examination, obtain a thorough dietary history that includes information about the food brand, formulation, and flavor, as well as accurate feeding amounts and any other foods (eg, treats, chews, table food, food used to administer medication). Such dietary histories should be obtained from every client at every visit.


Feed Correct Amounts

Too often, a client with an obese Labrador retriever will say, He only eats 1 cup a day, but upon further questioning, a team member will find that 1 cup is equivalent to a 2-liter bottle. It is important to make sure a cup is really an 8 oz cup. Feeding guidelines on food packaging are just that—guidelines—and they are not appropriate for every patient. For example, a sedentary Chihuahua will not burn as many calories as a hyperactive Chihuahua.

Also, feeding recommendations are based on the patient’s ideal body weight, which is frequently not the current weight. Knowing the caloric intake of a patient on its current diet can help with developing weight loss plans. On the other hand, for patients who present for weight loss with no other clinical signs and a normal workup, an increase in caloric consumption can be effective in reversing weight loss. Make sure patients are receiving their maintenance energy requirement before assuming they are being fed enough; pet food companies often change their formulations, and although the patient is being fed the same amount, caloric consumption may not be equivalent.1

Related Article: If the Gut Works, Use It: Calorie Deficiency in Hospitalized Patients

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Take Care with Treats

Treats are considered anything not included in the complete and balanced diet and include bones, snacks, rawhides, table food, and food used to administer medication. To avoid nutrient deficiency, treats should comprise no more than 10% of a patient’s total caloric intake.2,3 An abundance of treats, whether commercial treats or human food, can take away from a complete and balanced diet and lead to malnutrition. Consider providing clients with low-calorie treat suggestions (eg, small training treats, vegetables) to help them comply with recommendations, and suggest feeding kibble in place of treats. Obtaining an accurate treat history from all family members is important; for example, some rawhides contain as many as 300 calories per piece, and if every family member is feeding treats, the patient is receiving too many calories and may become overweight.

Also, make sure ingredients in all treats given during an elimination trial are evaluated for patients with food allergies or dietary sensitivities; for example, pumpkin-flavored treats could have other ingredients (eg, chicken, beef) and make an elimination trial less successful. All aspects of the patient’s diet, not just the complete and balanced meals, should be valuated to determine ingredient composition and caloric count, as well as any nutrients that may need to be adjusted with certain disease conditions.

Related Article: Obesity in Dogs & Cats

Provide clients with low-calorie treat suggestions to help them comply with recommendations.


Communicate Effectively

Perhaps the most important aspect of nutrition is communication among veterinary team members and clients. Nutrition education should be communicated to every client for every patient at every visit. At wellness visits, commend clients for a pet’s ideal body condition, if appropriate. Avoid terms such as fluffy and hefty, which can signify to clients that their pet has a cute physical impairment rather than a medical condition.

Following up on nutrition recommendations is crucial. Explain to the client why a certain diet was recommended (eg, restricted phosphorus in a renal diet) to help increase compliance. Obtain the patient’s weight 2 to 4 weeks after transitioning to a new diet and/or different amount of food to ensure weight loss is not too rapid, to allow for adjustments in amount, and to use positive results to promote client compliance. Progress appointments, which can be led by support team members (ie, veterinary nurses and assistants, client care representatives), do not consume much time but may increase revenue by increasing compliance and client satisfaction.

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Focus on the Patient

The veterinary team and the client want what is best for the patient, even if it goes against their own opinions or experiences. Seldom is only 1 food or feeding method suitable for a specific condition. Learn, educate, and adapt. Clients are more likely to comply with nutritional recommendations for their pet if they feel their concerns are heard, and compromise can greatly increase client and patient satisfaction.

It is important to remember the shared goal: to keep patients happy and healthy and ensure good quality of life. 

Related Article: Personality Profile: The Self-Informed Client 

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