Conversations about diet can be challenging for pet owners and veterinarians. However, it’s more than worth it to spend the time and energy on these conversations.

My first career was in the restaurant business. On the side, I started volunteering for a pet rescue group and an animal disaster relief organization. I was always interested in the medicine and in the relationships people had with their pets. I had considered human medicine as a career once upon a time, but when I decided to switch gears and thought about the work I really wanted to do, veterinary medicine was the clear answer. 

In the last month of veterinary school I took a nutrition elective, and that was it. Lightning struck. I knew I had found my thing. 

Food is very important to people. It’s personal. As we’ve focused more on how food makes a difference to our own health, it’s natural that owners think about their pet’s food too. Across the board, nutrition is getting more attention. In veterinary medicine, that means we’re focusing more on how to serve individual pets’ needs. 

For example, I get many referrals for treating pets with kidney disease. In these cases, we typically recommend a diet that decreases phosphorous and protein. Those choices might not be intuitive for a pet owner. I can help them understand how nutrition can be a tool for managing illness.

That’s tough to do when there’s so much misunderstanding about pet nutrition. People often come in pretty sure about what they think and what they want. During a consultation, I enjoy providing helpful resources and educating clients about why I’m making specific recommendations.

Sometimes what I say conflicts with what people believe from their own research. So when I can help a client understand the medical basis of the recommendations—and do the very best for their pet—that’s a meaningful moment. The pet owner’s support is critical, of course, and the connection we build working together on their pet’s care is very gratifying.

There is so much that goes into why veterinary nutritionists recommend the pet food manufacturers that we do. That’s part of what I discuss during a consultation. I introduce pet owners to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) nutrition guidelines and walk them through how these guidelines strongly affect our nutritional recommendations. 

I think that clients tend to think about pet food the same way they think about their own food, focusing on variety. Actually, I tell them, pets eat better than we do. Commercial diets are formulated to provide complete nutrition—so pets can receive all the essential nutrients they need at every meal from one source. People (myself included) definitely struggle with getting everything they need from their own food consumption!

If owners make their pet’s food, it’s critical for them to understand that we need to have the same goal as commercial diets—fulfilling all of their pet’s nutritional needs with a diet that is complete and balanced. Clients are often surprised to learn that I can customize a recipe for their pet’s unique nutritional goals. Having pet owners be a part of the nutritional assessment process enables them to be a true partner in their pet’s health care and empowers them to be an active participant in keeping their pet healthy.

There are so many health issues to talk about during a pet’s visit with their primary care veterinarian that it can be challenging to fit nutrition into that conversation. As a veterinary nutritionist, I am thankful that I have every minute of a consultation to talk about all of the different facets! Having the time to really dive into the details helps clients better understand the complexity of food choices.

My veterinarian colleagues are lifelong learners and nutrition is a topic that gets a lot of attention. This is both because of the impact on pets’ health and because clients really care about it, which is great. The more we all know about nutrition, the better off we are. As I said before, this is a topic that clients take personally. They’ve often done research and they have strong opinions. This makes it all the more imperative for us to spend time fleshing out not only what is best for the pet, but also what is workable for the client. 

Veterinarians care so much about the pets they see. They want the best for them. They want to help the pet owner. And a pet owner who cares enough about what their pet eats to bring it up also really cares. Having these two groups form a partnership to help a pet live its best life is when the true magic happens.

Dr. Lori Prantil joined the team at VCA South Shore (Weymouth) as Head of Nutrition in 2016. Her clinical interests include nutritional management of chronic kidney disease, urolithiasis, and endocrine diseases, and the formulation of home-cooked diet recipes. She says she could talk about nutrition all day, and she loves opportunities to offer CE lectures for veterinarians. Dr. Prantil hikes, rides her bike, has four cats and loves to bake. And if she could eat only one food for the rest of her life it would be ice cream. 
“The pet owner’s support of nutrition is critical and the connection we build working together on their pet’s care is very gratifying.”