The 5th Vital Assessment


by Dr Jennifer Ervin, Hill’s Pet Nutrition Australia

vital assessments veterinary

This article is sponsored content brought to you by Hill’s Pet Nutrition Australia.

Have you heard of the 5th Vital Assessment or 5VA or V5? No? Well, that’s not surprising because as a profession, we don’t really talk about vital assessments, but we do them every day. We all know what TPR is… Temperature, Pulse, and Respiration.  These are the first three of the vital assessments and we are all very familiar with them.  

Twenty years ago, pain assessment and its management was not standard practice.  Clients often had the choice as to whether or not their pet received pain management after surgery. It was not uncommon to see it appear on the anaesthetic consent form as an option. Some vets thought it was preferable not to offer pain management as they believed the pain would prevent the patient from moving around too much and disrupting the suture wound and bandaging. We now know, and accept, that this is inhumane and inappropriate in today’s veterinary practice. As such, pain was elevated to 4th Vital Assessment status by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) in the late 1990’s, and the most recent AAHA/AAFP Pain Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats can be viewed on the AAHA website We now assess pain, and manage it accordingly, with every patient, every time, such that it has become standard practice. 

vital assessments veterinary

Since then, a 5th Vital Assessment has been introduced. In 2010 AAHA named Nutrition as a standard of care and the 5th Vital Assessment (5VA). 

At this time, AAHA and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) jointly published a set of nutritional guidelines which can be viewed online at  

The 5th Vital Assessment is a wonderful opportunity to make a difference in the lives of your patients and to strengthen your relationships with clients. Making a specific and sound nutritional recommendation for every pet, at every visit, is not only important because our dog and cat owners are looking for and need this guidance, but also because we know that nutrition plays such a critical role in overall health.  The assessment of temperature, pulse, respiration and pain are already well accepted and integral vital assessments in the veterinary profession.  It is up to all veterinary health professionals to wholly embrace the 5th Vital Assessment, Nutrition, and work with clients to ensure each and every pet is being fed an appropriate diet.  

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Dr Jennifer Ervin BVSc (Hons), Professional Consulting Veterinarian,  Hill’s Pet Nutrition Australia

vital assessments veterinary

Jen graduated from the University of Melbourne with honours in 1999.  After graduation Jen worked in mixed animal/dairy practice for a short spell before moving into 100% small animal practice. In 2002, Jennifer and her now husband Matthew (also a veterinarian), spent two years working in the U.K. This entailed many different small animal veterinary roles including work in an emergency centre, as well as a stint as a greyhound track vet! Since returning to Australia, Jen has worked as a sole charge practitioner in small animal practice, spent a year as a Veterinary Territory Manager for Hill’s and also worked as a Practice Manager of a large mixed animal practice for eighteen months. Since 2008, Jennifer has worked as a Technical Services Veterinarian for Hill’s Pet Nutrition.  

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