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Incorporating nutrition discussions by the veterinary nurse is good medicine!



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.

5 vital assessments

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!

Kara M. Burns, MS, MEd, LVT, VTS (Nutrition) VTS-H (Internal Medicine, Dentistry)

Kara Burns is a licensed veterinary technician with a master’s degree in physiology and a master’s degree in counseling psychology.  She began her career in human medicine working as an emergency psychologist and as a poison specialist dealing with human and animal poisonings.


Kara is the Founder and Past President of the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians. She teaches nutrition courses around the world. Kara is an independent nutritional and well-being consultant and is the Editor in Chief of Today’s Veterinary Nurse


She is a member of many national, international, and state associations and holds positions on many boards in the profession: American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition executive board;  Western Veterinary Conference Technician Education Manager; NAVTA Past President;  Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics board member; Collaborative Care Coalition executive board; and the Pet Nutrition Alliance President, to name a few.


Kara has authored many articles, textbooks, and textbook chapters and is an internationally invited speaker, focusing on topics of nutrition, leadership, and technician utilization. Kara and her wife Dr. Ellen Lowery developed the Pet Nutrition Coach Certification course through NAVC. Ms. Burns has been featured on the cover of the Veterinary Technician Journal and the NAVTA Journal and most recently has been featured in PetVet Magazine.  She was named the North American Veterinary Conference Technician Speaker of the Year in 2013 and in 2016. She was granted an honorary VTS (Internal Medicine) in 2011. She was also granted an honorary VTS (Dentistry) in 2012.  She is the 2010 NAVTA Veterinary Technician of the Year, as well as the 2011 Dr. Franklin Loew Lecturer.  Kara has also been named the National Association of Professional Women ‘Woman of the Year’ for 2010-2011 and the Cambridge Who’s Who in Professionals V.I.P. for 2010-2011. She was accepted into the International Women’s Leadership Association in 2012.

Kara Burns