Animals can suffer from nutritional disorders, just like humans. Pet food suppliers, animal welfare services and charities, animal owners and even animal health experts need to understand general animal nutrition and regularly update their knowledge to include new research. Many choose to do this via professional development courses and consultations.
Scope of Work
Nutrient deficiencies, contaminated foods, over eating and under eating can all be issues with animals. Large animal feed companies and large farming businesses often employ animal nutrition experts to formulate and manage the production and use of foods and supplements. Domestic animals also require carefully calibrated nutrition in order to remain healthy and reduce issues that do not usually occur in wild environments, such as hairballs.
Speciality areas include:
- Production animals: The quality and quantity of meat, fibre or dairy produced by livestock will be affected by not only the animal's genetics but also by how and what it is fed.
- Working animals: Working animals such as guide dogs, biosecurity and other detection dogs, race horses, oxen, and others may have particular nutritional needs due of their work.Birds, reptiles, fish and other animals: Birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians have very different food needs to mammals such as dogs and cattle.
Work may be on a farm, factory, or laboratory, or in a practice consulting with clients or supporting other veterinary professionals.
What You Need to Learn
- Vertebrate anatomy and physiology (particularly mammalian) – how the animal body works, location of organs and their interconnectivity.
- Fundamental biochemistry, microbiology & genetics – beneficial microbes for gut health, gene regulation, drug resistance mechanisms
- Animal taxonomy - differences between species & breeds within a species
- Animal nutrition - learn the nutritional requirements for different animals, supplements
- Food processing and production – best hygiene practices, nutrition
- Diseases & terminology - including terminology, diseases, treatments
- Animal welfare, ethics and legalities - understand the current legislation applied to animal health practices
- Animal first-aid practices – basic first aid care for different species
- Data interpretation – analyses, statistics, especially if working in production
- Management skills - financial, time, records
Starting a Career
There are several ways to start your career in working with animal nutrition. A common way to start is by offering to work as an assistant or vet technician. Pathways into a career include:
- Vet technician
- Administrative work, volunteer (admin work)
- Entry level positions in the pet food industry
- Volunteering at zoos, wildlife rescues
- Volunteering or entry level positions at a kennel, cattery, or other boarding facility
While you are working part-time or volunteering for a food industry or animal clinic, you may seek for formal education in order to become a certified nutritionist yourself. Note that animal nutrition is distinct from human nutrition, and that you will need to study an animal-specific course.
Progressing a Career
Keep learning and developing your contacts in the industry. You can learn a lot through experience, but ongoing formal training can be important too. Being aware of current research and trends is invaluable; and that only comes from being connected to the industry (join a professional association, read industry media, attend shows, talk to colleagues -regularly).
Networking allows you to raise and maintain not only technical awareness, but also awareness of career opportunities.
If you are disconnected from industry, you won't see opportunities even if you are the most highly educated animal nutritionist.
Animal nutrition is a broad subject, career paths can lead along many routes, including:
- Pet Food Technician
- Raw Food Specialist
- Laboratory Technician
- Quality control auditor
- Animal Nutritionist
- Animal Food engineer
- Veterinarian assistant, Veterinary Technician/ Technologist
- Animal Holistic therapist