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Wellness Nutrition Part 2: Developing a nutrition protocol and how to start the conversation with your clients



We have protocols in place for vaccinations, spey/neuter and preventatives for fleas, worms and ticks, so why not nutrition? Clinic protocols make it is easier to have discussions with pet owners and means everyone is on the same page when it comes to making a recommendation. Consistency in the recommendation from the vet to the nurse to the receptionist is vital to improve outcomes. Has anyone in your clinic ever undermined a recommendation just after you have spent 10 minutes getting acceptance from an owner to try something new, such as a change of diet? Negative comments, for example about palatability, instantly undermine your recommendation and it’s likely the owner is no longer going to be willing to follow it. That’s why we need commitment from everyone in the clinic to follow a nutrition protocol.


This starts with involving everyone in establishing the protocol and then working out the various roles of each staff member.  Will the vet be responsible for initiating the conversation and recommending the diet?  What about the nurse? Will it be their job to discuss transition? Will it be their job to make a follow up phone call?  What about the reception staff? Will they be responsible for ensuring the client understands the need to feed lifelong? Will they be responsible for booking in the follow up phone call 2 days later?


These are all questions that need to be answered and will form part of the written protocol. It’s vital to ensure all new staff are trained on this protocol as well as on the diets that will be recommended.

Starting the nutrition conversation

Why is it important that we have these discussions at every consult? Even if we don’t change the diet in any way it is important we have an ongoing conversation with clients around nutrition. If we don’t, it implies we don’t perceive nutrition as important for health. The first discussion about diet with a client should not be when there is a disease process that could benefit from a particular food, because nutrition is just as important for healthy pets – so important that WSAVA have included nutrition as the 5th vital assessment. This means just like Temperature, Pulse, Respiration and Pain, that it should be evaluated and discussed for every pet at every visit. The veterinary health care team should be the clients’ first port of call if they have queries regarding nutrition.

If not you, then who?

If clients aren’t getting information from their vet, they will be getting it from other sources. This could be the 16 year old working at the pet shop, someone at the supermarket, a breeder, a neighbour or a friend, or via Dr Google. Let’s be honest, we’re all guilty of this last one! Whilst some of the information found online may be correct, unfortunately it’s a minefield, so why not be proactive and provide pet owners with a list of reputable and credible websites to visit. Fortunately WSAVA have already created this resource for us, ‘the Savvy Cat/Dog Owner’s Guide to Nutrition’ and it is available to download for free:


The Savvy Cat Owner’s Guide to Nutrition


The Savvy Dog Owner’s Guide to Nutrition

The 3 step process

  1. Ask for permission to talk about pet food. I guarantee most clients will be willing to have a discussion. In fact they usually want to have this discussion.
  2. Ask open ended questions, then LISTEN. Questions to ask include: What do you feed? Why do you feed product x?  Do they have concerns about feeding certain ingredients, such as grains? Even if you don’t agree with an owner’s feeding practices, it’s still important not to shy away from having an open discussion.  Listen to what they have to say, put yourself in their shoes, show compassion and understanding. These are all important to build positive strong rapport. If owners trust you they are going to be much more willing to listen and take your advice.
  3. Ask for permission to make a recommendation. Would you be open to trying something new if it was going to benefit your pet’s health/improve her coat/reduce his flatulence? Many owners will be willing to accept your recommendation if they understand the benefits clearly.
vet and kitten

Don’t forget to follow up

  1. Follow up is the single most important thing you can do once a client has accepted our recommendation.  This is as simple as calling the owner in a couple of days to see how their pet is enjoying the new diet. This is an opportunity to provide tips and encouragement to the owner. It’s also an opportunity to address any questions or concerns the owner may have and to reiterate what was said in the consultation. A study by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has shown that following up can increase compliance with your dietary recommendation by 3 fold!


We all know that change associated with diet is not going to happen overnight. Instead you will generally need to feed a pet for 60-90 days to see a benefit. That’s why it’s important to send the owner home with the right bag size. A rule of thumb is a pet will eat ½ its bodyweight per month in food. So it’s logical to send the pet home with its bodyweight equivalent of food. This is also really useful to know as you can estimate when a client is likely to run out of food. That way you can be proactive and call them to see if they need to place another food order or to get them back in for a revisit.

Want to learn more?

To find out more about how nurse nutritional consults can help increase dietary compliance in your practice check out our blog ‘Nutritional Nurse Consultations can save you time and add value’ available at


Increasing compliance is important for achieving the best patient outcomes, happy clients and leads to better job satisfaction. A Win-Win all round! Our blog ‘The Compliance Conundrum’ breaks down the components of the compliance equation and gives you tips on how to increase acceptance of your recommendations:

Blog by Dr Annabel Robertson BVSc (Hons) MANZCVSc MBA

Based on the webinar ‘What’s your plan for recommending pet food’ by Dr Bret Deardorff, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, US.


Annabel graduated from the University of Melbourne with honours in 2008. Since then she has worked as a small animal veterinarian in private practice in Australia and the UK. She also completed an internship in small animal medicine during this time and sat her membership in small animal internal medicine in 2012, and finished her MBA in 2015. Annabel joined the Hill’s team in 2015 as a technical services vet in Melbourne. 


  1. American Animal Hospital Assoc. The path to high-quality care: practical tips for improving compliance AAHA Press, 2003.