Top 5 missed opportunities in nutritional management

Top 5 missed opportunities in nutritional management

Be sure you're taking every chance to help clients learn what to feed their pets.
Sep 01, 2010

Veterinary technicians are perfectly positioned to identify potential nutritional problems in their patients. And, as you know, proper nutrition is essential for maintaining pets' overall health and well-being. It helps them live longer, enhances their quality of life, and is an integral part of their ability to sustain adequate responses to disease or injury.

For those reasons, nutritional screening should be a part of a wellness examination in every pet. Incorporating the following nutritional assessment points into your medical routine requires little or no additional time or cost.

1. Assigning a body condition score

A body condition score (BCS) evaluates the overall condition of an animal based on fat and muscle seen and felt over specific regions of the animal's anatomy. Assign each patient a score, regardless of whether it appears overweight or underweight. Use the BCS not only to assess a patient's current status, but to track changes over time.

BCS charts are available using a point scale of either 1 to 5 or 1 to 9. A BCS of 1/5 or 1/9 represents a cachectic animal, while 5/5 or 9/9 is considered obese. For dogs, a BCS of 3/5 or 4-5/9 is ideal, while for cats, 3/5 or 5/9 is considered optimal. Whichever BCS chart you use, be consistent and ensure everyone working in your hospital is using the same system. Charts are available from many pet food manufacturers.

To assign a BCS, you'll need to visually examine and palpate the animal. Palpation is especially important in animals with thick coats, as visually they may appear to be of normal body condition or even overweight. Palpate for fat over the ribs and pelvic bones. In cats, also check for an abdominal fat pad. Compare your findings with the pictures on the BCS charts. (For pointers on what else to look out for when assessing a pet's BCS, visit

Use the BCS as a tool to educate clients and improve compliance. Keep a supply of charts on hand to give to clients and teach them how to score their own pets—having to assign a score of 5/5 or 9/9 to their own pets will make a greater impact than simply being told their pets should be put on a diet.

2. Querying for diet history

While you're taking a patient's history, ask the owner questions regarding the cat or dog's current diet. (To see a list of essential nutrition-related questions, as well as learn about the new nutrition assessment guidelines developed by the American Animal Hospital Association, visit This will allow you to better determine whether the current diet is adequate and appropriate or whether the pet could benefit from a change. In the case of an obese animal, a good diet history can quickly identify the source of extra calories.

Be sure to keep updated pet food product guides on hand since manufacturers often add or discontinue diets or, in existing diets, change the percentage of protein and fat, calorie content, and even ingredients. Most large pet food manufacturers have updated guides available on request. It's also smart to bookmark a website or get a reference book that outlines values for human foods since owners often administer medication with calorie-rich human foods such as peanut butter (100 calories a teaspoon).

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