How to find reliable nutrition information

As pet parents, we want to learn as much as we can and do what is best for our pets. There is a wealth of information available to us regarding pet health, nutrition, and many other topics. However, the sources of information vary greatly, and sometimes it can be difficult to tell which information is reliable and which should be avoided.

Generally speaking, veterinarians should be your go-to resource for all things related to pet health. They are the only people who have the education and experience necessary to give you medical advice. Veterinary specialists in nutrition are the gold standard resource for anything related to nutrition. These board-certified experts have undergone extensive training after completing their DVM education and know the most about the field of nutrition.

When evaluating a resource, it is important to figure out who is providing the information. Is it an expert in the field, or merely a pretender? In general, veterinarians or other professionals who have extensive training in the subject of animal nutrition are reliable sources of information. Websites, blogs, and books written by board-certified veterinary nutritionists or professionals with similar training should be go-to resources for pet owners. Laypeople, or anyone who does not have formal nutrition education, are unreliable sources of information and their advice should not be followed. This includes veterinarians who claim to have extensive training or experience, but who give advice that contradicts national or global veterinary organizations’ policies.

People

Reliable

  • Your pet’s usual veterinarian should be your first source of information regarding anything related to your pet’s health. They know you and your pet the best and can help you make educated decisions regarding their care. If your veterinarian is uncomfortable or incapable of giving you nutrition advice, they should be able to refer you to a board-certified veterinary nutritionist who can.

  • Board-certified veterinary nutritionists are specialists who have completed their DVM education plus 3 extra years of residency, performed research, become published, and passed a board-certifying exam. These experts know the most about nutrition science, and how nutrition can be used to help pets in all stages of life and with various medical conditions.

  • Veterinary technician nutrition specialists are the veterinary technician version of a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. These individuals have completed their CVT/RVT/LVT education plus 3 years of additional training in nutrition, and then passed a credentialing exam. These specialists know much more about nutrition than other veterinary technicians and sometimes even general practice DVMs!

  • PhD or MS animal nutritionists have undergone post-baccalaureate training in nutrition and are another good resource for nutrition information. However, their knowledge may be less patient-based and more science-based.

Unreliable

  • Pet store employees are almost always a poor source of nutrition information. They have not had animal medical or nutrition education and therefore cannot legally give advice regarding your pet’s health or diet. They are paid by the pet store which employs them, so they are often trained to sell or recommend the more expensive or popular diets sold at the store.

  • Salespeople are usually poor sources of information because they have little to no nutrition education. They are simply paid by a pet food company to sell products to pet owners, and can say anything they want about a product, no matter if it is true or not.

  • Breeders, trainers, and groomers may have lots of experience handling pets, communicating with clients, and be very good at their jobs, but they are not qualified to give nutrition or medical advice unless they have formal education in these subjects.

  • Veterinarians who claim to have extensive training in nutrition, but who consistently give advice that contradicts the WSAVA nutritional guidelines or the AVMA’s stance on various nutrition topics, are an unreliable source of nutrition information. As a pet owner, you may find it difficult to determine if a veterinarian fits this description. If possible, try to find out what pet food companies veterinarians endorse, listen to the kind of nutrition or medical advice they give, and compare these to the WSAVA nutrition guidelines and the AVMA’s policies.

Websites

Reliable

  • ACVN.org is the home of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition. It is the go-to website for finding board-certified veterinary nutritionists for consultations. They also have FAQs where they answer common questions about nutrition.

  • AAVNutrition.org is home to the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition. There is an extensive resources page on their website, where pet owners can look to find reliable nutrition information.

  • NutritionTechs.com is the home of the American Veterinary Nutrition Technicians. This site has a great reading list of nutrition books and other resources, both for veterinary professionals and pet owners.

  • WSAVA.org is home to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, and contains their Global Nutrition Committee, which has excellent, standardized resources for both pet owners and veterinarians all around the globe.

  • PetNutritionAlliance.org is made up of many board-certified veterinary nutritionists, veterinary technician nutrition specialists, and other veterinarians. They provide resources for pet owners such as calorie calculators and diet comparisons.

  • VetNutrition.Tufts.edu is home of the Petfoodology blog, written by the board-certified veterinary nutritionists at Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. They write about numerous topics in pet nutrition.

  • AAFCO.org is the home of the Association of American Feed Control Officials. This organization creates guidelines for pet food manufacturers. While AAFCO does not write laws and cannot enforce these guidelines, they set standards all manufacturers are expected to uphold. They also have resources for pet owners.

  • FDA.gov is home to the US Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. This agency regulates pet food manufacturers on a national level. They have the authority to inspect foods, fine manufacturers, and recall diets if they are not up to standard. They have FAQs for pet owners and provide links to outside resources as well.

  • CDC.gov is the home of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They have an extensive pet health section on their site as well as a smaller section on pet food safety.

  • PetFoodInstitute.org has many owner-friendly resources on their site, with topics ranging from pet food safety to regulation. They also have a blog for pet owners, called The Whole Bowl.

  • In general, websites that end in .edu, .gov, and .org are maintained by science-based professionals and contain factual information. However, you should always check the credentials of the organization posting nutrition or medical information.

Unreliable

  • Blogs, pet food rating websites, or other .com websites run by laypeople or individuals with no formal nutrition training or education, are unreliable resources. Look for an “About” section on these websites and blogs to find out more about the author’s education and credentials. If they have none, or do not provide this information, their advice should not be followed.

Books

Reliable

  • Nutrition and Disease Management for Veterinary Technicians and Nurses is written by Ann Wortinger and Kara Burns, two Veterinary Technician Nutrition Specialists. This textbook is a great resource for veterinary nutrition. It contains short chapters written in language that is easily readable for professionals and pet owners alike.

  • Small Animal Clinical Nutrition by Hand et al. is a very thorough resource which highlights many different aspects of nutrition. Written for professionals, it is a comprehensive resource for all things related to small animal nutrition.

  • Canine and Feline Nutrition by Case et al. is another good resource for pet owners and veterinary staff alike. It begins by outlining the basics of nutrition and progresses through nutrient requirements, pet foods, and nutritional management of life stages and diseases.

  • Applied Veterinary Clinical Nutrition is a great resource for veterinary professionals, detailing nutritional management of many common small animal diseases.

Unreliable

  • Books written by laypeople or non-veterinarians who have no formal nutrition education are again unreliable sources of information. Anyone can publish a book without getting it fact-checked first, so it’s best to stay away from nutrition books, especially cookbooks, that are written by non-professionals.

  • Books written by veterinarians who claim to have extensive training or experience in nutrition but no title or degree to back up these claims are poor sources of information. Be sure to check the credentials and background of book authors, even if they are DVMs, before following their advice.

  • Cookbooks can be dangerous resources. They are almost never written by actual experts, and therefore the recipes within can spell disaster for your pet. If you are considering a homemade diet, it is best to speak with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist who can help formulate the diet and ensure it is complete and balanced. (To learn more, visit Homemade diets.)