Deciding the right diet to feed your dog or cat -- whether you’re hoping to alleviate issues or prevent them altogether -- can be overwhelming. Between raw meals, kibble, wet food, and home cooked diets, not to mention, thousands of different brands, reviews, and recalls, deciding on a meal plan for your furry friend can be daunting.
Doing some research on your own will help clear up some confusion, but the best way to be sure your companion is consistently eating the healthiest, most balanced diet possible is to consult with an animal or veterinary nutritionist.
Our previous article, titled 5 Reasons Why Every Pet Should See An Animal Nutritionist, details the importance of creating a customized meal plan for your pet with the help of a professional. The next step is to find the right animal nutritionist to work with you and your companion.
It can be argued that having an animal nutritionist is almost as important as having a vet. But maybe you, like many, have been putting off the search because you’re afraid of being pressured into an expensive meal plan or of being judged. However, a good professional won’t make you feel either of those things; the trick is finding one that’s right for you (and your furry friend, too)!
Below, experts from around the world give their advice when it comes to finding a pet nutrition expert that goes beyond Googling “Pet nutritionist near me.” Your pet is part of the family, and when it comes to his health, you only want the best.
Step 1: Find A Nutritionist
Ask for recommendations
If you can get a recommendation from a pet-loving friend or family member that you trust, that’s a great place to start. You can ask your regular veterinarian for a recommendation, too.
You may not have luck asking for firsthand recommendations, but thanks to the internet, it’s easier to find a pet nutritionist than ever. (Of course, this is only the beginning of your search.) And here’s a hint: if you search for “pet nutritionists near me” and don’t get a lot of results, try looking up holistic veterinarians, too. They often have nutritionists on staff, or can connect you with one.
Do some research
In addition to looking up the animal/veterinary nutritionist’s bio and credentials, see if you can find reviews online. Below are some details you should look for in your research, and if you can’t find them online, you can ask at your consultation (more on that later).
- How long he/she has been in business
- Educational background (school, degree, certifications, job experience, etc.)
- References, testimonials, and reviews
Note: while you should not base your decision solely on the reviews, you should take overwhelmingly good or bad comments into consideration.
Also, keep in mind that certain animal nutritionists specialize or have experience helping patients manage specific issues. This could include anything from diabetes to cancer, to healthy weight management.
If your pet has a condition that you’d like to address, consider this as you conduct your search. You should also ask pet nutrition candidates about this kind of experience during the initial consultation (more on that below).
Step 2: Set Up A Consultation
Ask specific questions
The candidate may look perfect on paper, but it’s still important to set up an animal/veterinary nutritionist consultation to make sure he or she is a good fit for your pet and for you. Also, do your homework and come prepared with lots of questions.
Not sure where to start? Here are some important ones to ask:
- Do you have a speciality?
- What kinds of conditions / issues have you have experience working with?
- What results have you seen and how long did it take to get those results?
- Do you work with any local veterinarians? (“Any professional nutritionist should have ‘proven’ their worth with local vets,” explains Johnna Devereaux of Fetch RI in Rhode Island.)
- If not listed on his/her website, be sure to ask about education, testimonials, and the amount of time he/she has been a nutritionist, too!
Craig Weindling, author of The Dog Food Detective, says it’s important to be specific. “Be as specific as possible about what you are hoping to achieve through your consultation,” he suggests. “Ask as many questions as needed to ensure you understand, not just the answers given, but also the reasoning behind the answers.”
Trust your gut
Even if the animal nutritionist has glowing reviews and recommendations, no one knows your pet or lifestyle better than you do, so trust your gut!
“If you don't feel that the information being provided is accurate, then do your own research, and, again, seek a second opinion,” recommends Becky Mobley of Wild Kingdom Pet Supplies in Texas.
“Be your animal's advocate!” Devereaux adds. “Use common sense--if something doesn't "seem" right--question it and keep questioning it until you feel comfortable or until you find someone that can explain things in a logical way.”
Be completely honest
You want pet professionals to be completely honest for the sake of your dog or cat’s health, and you should be honest, too! Don’t hide information because you’re afraid the nutritionist will judge you -- that’s not his/her job.
Maybe you have a tendency to give extra treats to your overweight cat or you know your dog’s kibble isn’t the best quality diet. Perhaps you’re not consistent when it comes to exercising your pal.
Further, if you’re concerned about cost of a top-of-the-line meal plan, let your animal/veterinary nutritionist know; a good one will still be able to help you make healthy adjustments to your dog or cat’s diet. (More on that ahead.)
No pet parent is perfect, and it’s essential to tell the experts the whole story in order to best help your companion. After all, it’s obvious you care, since you’re going to a nutritionist to help improve his health!
A final word on the matter: don’t leave out details because you assume they’re insignificant (for instance, a change in eating or appetite habits). Sometimes, they’re not!
“You see your pet more than any other professionals, and translating those observations to the folks working to help is essential,” Heather Thelen of Hawthorne Country Store in California points out.
Step 3: The Initial Appointment
Ask (even more) questions
Once you feel you’ve found the right animal nutritionist, the questions won’t be over! Continually trying to understand how your pet’s diet affects his health is the best way to be an advocate and proactive parent. After all, the more you know, the better decisions you can make for your furry friend.
When the nutritionist gives a dietary recommendation, you should learn as much as possible about his/her reasoning behind it. According to pet professionals, here are some key questions to ask:
- How is this diet specifically balanced for my dog?
- What sources do you use for balancing diets and researching nutrients?
- What is the protein source in the food?
- Are there grains in the food, and if so, what are they?
- Is there just one option offered to consider? If so, why?
- If there’s another potential option, how do they compare? What are the pros and cons of each?
Step 4: Know The Signs Of A Good Pet Nutritionist
He/she takes time to learn about your pet
“A good professional should start with questions,” says Thelen. “They should understand the health, history and current situation for the animal. They should be asking about all the things that have or have not worked and they should be offering good solutions even outside of their own sales and or company.”
He/she listens more than talks
“A good nutritionist will listen more than talk, and ask questions before suggesting anything,” Diana Farrar of Fifi & Fidos Pet Boutique & Holistic Nutrition Center in Texas reiterates.
He/she can give specific reasoning behind recommendations
“ [Animal nutritionists] should know about ingredients and what they do, or don't do, for the [patient] ,” says Melissa Whitton of Most Valuable Pets in Kentucky. “They should be able to give specific reasons why one product is good for that dog [or cat] , but another product may be better.”
Further, he/she should be able to explain the benefits and disadvantages of different kinds of diets, including certain brands, dry food, wet food, raw food, home cooked food, etc.
He/she shows genuine concern about the patient
Being polite and professional is one thing, but finding a nutritionist who genuinely cares about the well-being of your pet -- and you -- is key.
He/she will work within you and your pet’s limitations
“A good nutritionist will work within the limitations of the pet owner and modify a plan to not only meet the needs of the specific pet, but also that of the owner,” assures Devereaux. “The best laid nutrition plan does no good if it requires more from the pet owner than they are willing (or able) to do.”
For instance, if a pet parent can’t afford an organic raw diet, or doesn’t have time to prepare homemade meals, an accommodating nutritionist will take this into consideration and help you create a plan that truly works for you.
Step 5: Avoid These Red Flags
Being too pushy
If a pet nutritionist tries to push a certain food brand that you’re not sure about, or the most expensive diet option that you said you can’t afford, you may want to find another expert.
Emily Ellsworth Pure Pet in Ohio, adds, “A nutritionist who makes suggestions based on current trends instead of proven research can be dangerous, as can one who is only interested in recommending common brands or expensive brands instead of exploring less commercialized options.”
Only suggesting one plan or product
“A good nutritionist should be well-rounded,” says Donna Anderson of Petite Pet Inn & Spa in Virginia. “ [He or she should be] able to come at a problem from several angles. There is no ‘absolute’ with nutrition, as every pet is different, everybody an individual. And there are so many issues going on at once.”
Further, anyone who “can't give you straight answers or they are pushing for one particular product instead of a process” is probably not your best bet, says Carlos Deleon of Pet Wants San Antonio North in Texas.
Recommending one diet over an entire lifetime
Like with humans, different life stages require different nutritional needs. That, combined with the dog or cat’s health or current issues, should all be taken into consideration.
In other words, don’t trust a nutritionist who recommends a single diet over the animal’s entire lifespan.
Not showing genuine concern
The right pet nutritionist truly cares about your companion, but if you don’t sense that he/she is invested in your pal’s well-being, it’s definitely time to find another one! Sure, pet professionals see dozens of patients, but true animal lovers deeply care about the health of each and every one of them.
Finding the right animal nutritionist for your family goes beyond booking an appointment with the first result you see on your online search. It’s essential to find one that is well educated and experienced, aligns with your core values, takes your time and budget into consideration, and never makes you feel judged. Most of all, the person helping you nourish your pet should genuinely care about your companion’s well-being.
With the expert-backed tips outlined in this article, we hope you’ll find a pet nutritionist that’ll help your canine or feline become as healthy as can be. In the next articles, find out the funniest questions pet nutritionists have been asked, then stay tuned for some expert- recommended ideas on healthy, homemade snacks to feed your pal.