Nutrition is one area of veterinary medicine that affects every pet that comes into the hospital. Out of the three components that affect the life of an animal – genetics, environment, and nutrition – nutrition is the one factor that the veterinary nurse can impact. Proper nutrition and feeding management is the foundation upon which healing and the maintenance of health rests.
Veterinary Nurse Nutritional Assessments
An assessment is an iterative process, in which each factor affecting the animal’s nutritional status is assessed and reassessed as often as is needed. The factors to be evaluated include the animal, the diet, feeding management, and environmental factors.
Poor nutrition can lead to poor quality of life. The goal of the veterinary nurse is to help patients live a long, happy, healthy life. Incorporating a nutritional assessment into animal care is crucial for maintaining pets’ health, as well as pets’ response to disease and injury. Veterinary nurses must initiate discussions about nutrition with pet owners, every time the pet visits the hospital. You can do it!
The Five Vital Assessments
Veterinary nurses are responsible for the five vital assessments of patient health. This should occur at every examination to ensure the highest standard of care. The 5 vital assessments are: temperature (T), pulse (P), respiration (R), pain, and nutrition. Nutritional assessments and education should be veterinary nurse driven.
Nutrition is a key component of preventive health care. Believe it or not, pet owners look to their veterinary team as experts in healthcare as well as nutritional advice. Veterinary nurses should lead the nutrition education of pet owners. This will prevent owners gaining nutritional information from non-veterinary personnel or the internet.
Why did we choose veterinary medicine?
Our ‘why’ is to help animals. So why would we not focus on nutrition, as we know nutrition is the cornerstone to good health? Incorporating nutrition into the practice is good medicine, good business, and the right thing to do for our patients. Incorporate a nutritional assessment into the examination protocol for every patient, every time they visit the practice. Let’s begin to satisfy client expectations. Let’s give a specific nutritional recommendation and extend the health and special lifelong relationships of pets. That is our ‘why’!
The role of the veterinary nurse is to;
- Take the patient’s history (check out this easy to use dietary history form)
- Score the patient’s body condition including body condition score (BCS) and body fat index (BFI)
- Work with the veterinarian to determine the proper nutritional recommendation for the patient
- Communicate information to the pet owner
Steps to Evaluate a Pet’s Nutritional Status
The first step in evaluating a pet and determining its nutritional status is to take a thorough history, including a nutritional history. This helps to determine;
- The quality and adequacy of the food being fed to the pet
- The feeding protocol (including the amount of food given)
- The family member responsible for feeding the pet
- The type(s) of food given to the pet
Asking open ended questions helps to uncover more information and gets the owner talking; closed ended questions typically end in a one-word answer thus potentially not uncovering everything the pet eats in a day.
The health care team should document the pet’s body condition score, body fat index and weight at every visit. This is important when determining whether a dog or cat is at a healthy weight and when substantiating a diagnosis of obesity in a pet. It allows health care team members to assess a patient’s fat stores and muscle mass, helps in evaluating weight changes, and provides a value that can be used in team communication. Veterinary nurses should demonstrate how to assess body condition on the pet while in the exam room and have the owner perform one as well. Doing this together helps to ensure understanding and proper scoring. Have the owner perform BCS monthly at home and call in to the clinic to give the score and add it to the patient’s medical record!