Recently, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the World Small Animal Hospital Association (WSAVA) Nutritional Guidelines were published. These guidelines were developed by committees that included Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine nutritionist, Dr. Lisa Freeman, as well as other nutritionists, veterinary practitioners, and scientists from multiple countries.

These guidelines were designed to be globally relevant pet nutrition recommendations. Careful assessment of nutritional needs of individual dogs and cats must be taken into consideration in order to maintain optimum health, complement treatment regimens for animals with medical conditions and maximize the quality of life in all animals.  Therefore, the goal of these guidelines is that a nutritional assessment and specific nutritional recommendation be made for every patient at every visit. Nutrition assessment will become known as the 5th Vital Assessment, following the four vital assessments of temperature, pulse, respiration and pain that are already addressed on each patient interaction.

A brief screening evaluation of the nutritional status during history taking and the physical examination can be seamlessly performed as part of every patient exam. Nutrition-related risk factors that can be easily identified from the history and physical examination include age (growing or old), suboptimal body condition score (overweight or thin), muscle loss, atypical or homemade diet, medical conditions, or changes in appetite. An extended evaluation should follow if one or more risk factors are identified on screening. These guidelines provide criteria to evaluate the animal and the diet as well as key feeding and environmental factors.  In addition, recommendations for interpretation, analysis and action are included so that a plan for optimizing the animal’s nutritional status can be instituted.

A team approach to continuous nutritional education, implementation of appropriate protocols and focused client communication, utilizing the AAHA and WSAVA Nutritional Guidelines, are key components to reach this goal.