By Dr Mina Hamilton, Scientific Services Veterinarian Manager at Royal Canin
This article is sponsored content brought to you by Royal Canin.
Why is nutrition so important to the health and wellbeing of cats and dogs?
Nutrition is considered to be the 5th vital sign in a veterinary assessment by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, after temperature, pulse, respiration and pain assessment. This demonstrates the global veterinarian consensus that nutrition is believed to be critical to the health of cats and dogs.
Nutrition becomes especially important in certain life stages for cats and dogs, such as growth. Appropriate nutrition ensures puppies and kittens can grow to their full potential. Without a complete and balanced diet, growing animals are at risk of developmental growth disorders such as skeletal deformities.
Nutrition has also evolved to form a part of preventative health in pets. Tailored high quality nutrition is now formulated to help prevent common health conditions in cats and dogs. For example, adult diets for cats may contain specific nutrients to influence the urine composition and help reduce the risk of lower urinary tract disorders. Obesity is also becoming more and more common in pets, with 1 in 2 pets overweight or obese. As it is in people, obesity is linked to many other illnesses in cats and dogs, and so appropriate nutrition can play a vital role in helping pets maintain an ideal bodyweight.
Despite the importance of nutrition to the general health and wellbeing of cats and dogs, the subject of small animal nutrition is not as highly valued or supported as other disciplines in veterinary teaching institutions, leaving veterinary students graduating with very little knowledge on the subject. Why is this so and how can Royal Canin improve and help change this as an industry product-based group?
Veterinary schools across Australia have the challenging task of delivering detailed course content to students that covers every veterinary discipline, of which there are many! The bulk of board-certified veterinary nutritionists globally are based in Europe or the USA, as these are the regions that offer further study in this area. There is a lack of expertise in small animal nutrition locally, and so many veterinary teaching institutions rely on external speakers, such as veterinarians like myself, to guest lecture and deliver content on small animal nutrition. This information is presented in an appropriate way to students, leaving out any specific product details, and instead focusing on fundamental nutrition principles. Even in teaching institutions where they do have designated lecturers on the subject of nutrition, many liaise with veterinarians from nutrition companies to gather more information or case examples for the course content, which we’re always happy to provide.
A recent Global Royal Canin survey conducted in March 2020 demonstrated this is a global issue, not one unique to Australia.
In March this year, Royal Canin conducted an internal survey to capture a snapshot of the veterinary expertise and educational opportunities in the field of small animal clinical nutrition globally. We were interested to understand the number and concentration of veterinary schools, the level of education on small animal nutrition delivered to veterinary students (and subsequently practising veterinarians) and the distribution and influence of the veterinary nutrition diplomats globally.
Royal Canin is a global brand, employing close to 250 veterinarians worldwide (including over 10 board-certified veterinary nutritionists), with years of experience in veterinary nutrition. Veterinarians in similar roles to myself across the globe responded to this internal survey, answering for their market or country.
We had responses from 41 countries in total. The survey showed us that the distribution of veterinary nutritionists is mostly concentrated in the USA and Europe – this aligns with the fact that the two colleges for veterinary nutrition are based in these regions (ACVN and ECVCN). This survey also showed that ACVN diplomats predominantly stayed in the US, and ECVCN diplomates stayed in Europe, demonstrating the expertise rarely ventures beyond these regions.
Of the top 10 countries ranked by number of veterinary schools, only the US has board- certified veterinary nutritionists teaching veterinary students at universities. The remaining 9 countries had no board-certified diplomat in their country.
The survey also identified that in many veterinary universities globally, veterinarians specialising in farm animals or without a nutrition specialty are stepping in to teach on the subject. do you think this affects the companion animal side, and how can Royal Canin help turn this issue around?
The survey showed that globally >50% of those teaching students on small animal nutrition specialised in farm animal nutrition or were non-vet nutritionists.
Within Australia, the pet health nutrition industry has providessupport in two main ways to veterinary schools; 1) working with universities to put forward our own veterinarians as guest lecturers to help boost knowledge on the fundamentals of nutrition for veterinary students, and 2) providing educational supporting materials to the existing lecturers, should they reach out for more information, especially on clinical nutrition and case examples relating to therapeutic diets.
In Australia, we are fortunate to have two board certified veterinary nutritionists, however neither work for a University. Do they have any involvement with Royal Canin? Two seems very little? Is this a qualification easy to obtain? Why so few?
In Australia, we have two board-certified veterinary nutritionists – neither work full time in veterinary teaching institutions and remain in private practice or business.
Royal Canin occasionally calls on their expertise to upskill our own internal team, invite them as speakers to events/conferences we put on specifically to educate veterinarians on nutrition, as well as refer cases to them for more tailored home prepared diet recipes where a commercial diet is not in the best interest of the cat or dog.
A specialist level qualification in small animal nutrition is difficult to obtain in Australia. The Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists does not currently offer small animal nutrition as a chapter for membership or fellowship, so there are limited opportunities locally to specialise and develop local expertise. Our local veterinary nutritionists have all studied abroad.
Due to the lack of expertise in nutrition, many universities collaborate with veterinarians from nutrition companies to help educate students of the practical applications of small animal nutrition in practice. The information presented to students is not reflective of products, but rather of nutrition principles that can help guide them to making appropriate nutrition recommendations for their patients. Is this generally a successful collaboration for Royal Canin and others, and assuming it is, why?
There are seven veterinary schools across Australia. Veterinarians from nutrition companies collaborate with most veterinary schools to help educate students on the practical applications of small animal nutrition, either formally or informally.
We ensure the information is always presented by a veterinarian, and is not reflective of products, but focused on nutrition principles that can help guide them to making appropriate nutrition recommendations for their patients.
This is generally a successful collaboration. We work with the universities to ensure the content is relevant to the curriculum, and the veterinary students are always interested in understanding the topic further, as it is a topic they recognise pet owners want to talk about, so they want to be prepared for the discussion!
Royal Canin have digital resources available for veterinary professionals to help educate on nutrition and support dietary recommendations in the best interest of the cat or dog. These are frequently updated and reflect the latest science in the field. We recognise veterinarians should select or recommend the diet that is most appropriate for their individual patient and in the best interest of the pets’ health. What are these?
Royal Canin has digital resources available that help support veterinarians and veterinary nurses in making dietary recommendations in the best interest of their patients. Our newly enhanced online suite of education is designed to help tailor the individual learning experience for veterinarians and veterinary nurses. At the click of a button, clinics will have access to digital resources including product information, learning materials, podcasts and webinars, all which are available 24/7 and are ready when you are. Some of these digital resources include:
- The Royal Canin Vet Portal: Provides ease of access to numerous resources including learning resources, case studies, charts to help with nutritional decision making and marketing material.
- Royal Canin Vet Services: allows veterinarians to calculate individual daily food rations and create weight management plans for pets
- Royal Canin Veterinary Focus: An online veterinary publication, containing articles written by global veterinary experts on various topics
- Royal Canin Webinar Series: An extensive series of educational, interactive webinars, presented by local experts across multiple veterinary disciplines.
We see great value to the profession if we were able to collaboratively raise the profile of small animal nutrition as a core veterinary discipline. This will equip veterinary professionals to speak more confidently on this important topic, provide sound nutritional advice and ultimately, better advocate for the health and wellbeing of cats and dogs.
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