You should know that the term “Animal Nutritionist” doesn’t actually mean that much. The term is not protected, and anyone with an interest in nutrition for animals can call themselves an “Animal Nutritionist”. Generally speaking though, most job positions require a bachelors in a related field – such as Biology, Animal Science, Animal Nutrition, Food Science or Biochemistry in order to be hired as an “Animal Nutritionist”.
There are two protected titles when it comes to Animal Nutrition – a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, and a veterinary technician specialty in nutrition. These have very specific requirements and board examinations. Otherwise, it’s important to look at the level and type of education received by the indivudal – be it a university level program (aka bachelors, master’s, phD), or a certification program.
I’ve gone-ahead and divided up the courses/certificates into five categories to allow for comparison:
- Non-RACE/IAABC approved courses/certificates
- RACE approved CE – usually for veterinary professionals
- IAABC approved CE – usually for certified behavior consultants/trainers
- University level courses/certificates
- Further Professional/Education Opportunities
Each course I’ve broken down the hours of instruction, and who exactly teaches the courses so that you have an idea of how much instruction you may receive on the subject. I’ve also included the cost of the courses in $USD to allow a good comparison between programs.
Hopefully all this information will allow you to not only choose a course for yourself if you’d like further educational opportunities, but allow you to understand the education and background of those who have undergone these courses/certifications already.
Non-Degree Certificates, Not RACE/IAABC Approved
Non-degree certificates are generally recognized as lacking a general standard as far as scientific accuracy, and standardization of content. This is by no means an inclusive list of programs, however these are the most popular that I could find online.
Dog’s Naturally Pet Nutrition Certification $295
Apx 10 hrs, not RACE approved
Taught by Dana Scott, written by Meg Smart DVM PhD
“In short, Certified Pet Nutrition Specialists are able to pick up any can or bag of pet food and perform advanced analysis to determine the quality of the nutrients, which nutrients are missing, and which supplements will fill the nutritional holes processing produces.”
Academy of Natural Health Sciences Clinical Pet Nutritionist (C.P.N) $2,275
Apx 500+ hrs of study, no mention of actual instruction hours, no RACE approval
Taught by Unknown
“Our Clinical Pet Nutritionist® (C.P.N.®) animal careers course is a professional training, designed to help anyone who has both a love of health and animals to educate pet owners about adjunctive natural health methods. Graduates may choose to be in private practice or work with other professionals in the fields of animal health, athletic performance, or veterinary nutrition.”
Non-degree Animal Nutrition Certificates – RACE APPROVED CE
For those who are un-aware veterinary professionals are required to do yearly continuing education in order to maintain their license, this CE has to be “RACE Approved”. RACE Approved CE has to go through an approval process with the AAVSB, be presented by an individual with advanced certification or training in the subject, and be scientifically accurate – you can find the full policies here.
The below list is by no way all-inclusive as far as CE for veterinary professionals – most large veterinary conferences will have CE offered on nutrition, and have board-certified or phD nutritionist speaking about dog food or the nutritional management of disease. You can also find individual nutrition CE through websites like DVM 360, Vetfolio, and more. I highly recommend getting on an email list to receive updates on upcoming CE topics so you can listen-in.
Hill’s, Purina & Royal Canin Small Animal Nutrition Continuing Education $0
Ongoing RACE Approved CE
Taught by various specialist in the veterinary field
Current courses focus on gastrointestinal disease, skin conditions, life-stage nutrition, metabolism, weight loss, and practice management. Though these programs are sponsored by pet food companies they often speak to a wide variety of nutrition related topics including the nutritional management of disease, and conjunctive therapies. However, they rarely speak to homemade diet formulation.
University of Tennessee – Nutritional Case Management Certification $99
10hrs RACE CE
Taught by Angela Witzel, DVM, AVCN
A good overview of animal nutrition and how we can use nutrition to influence different diseases processes. Gives an overview of different prescription diet options on the market – with comparative tables to allow ease of recommending diets. Gives information on the metabolism of different nutrients, how different disease process influence metabolism and how we can manipulate the diet to support pets and provide them with relief. Courses do speak to general macros, vitamins and minerals of concern with different disease processes, but does not offer information on diet formulation. Does offer a presentation on evaluating homemade diets for balance on a basic level.
NAVC Pet Nutrition Coach Certification $199
8hrs RACE CE
Taught by ACVN Diplomat and phD in Animal Nutrition
A good foundation on metabolism, and basic nutritional needs for dogs and cats. A nice overview on AAFCO regulations, how to read a pet food, converting guaranteed analysis to dry matter, and pet food ingredient definitions. No information on diet formulation, or evaluating homemade diets for balance.
VetGirl Certificate in Animal Nutrition $250
12 hrs RACE approved CE
Taught by various internal medicine and veterinary nutritionist specialists
This is not a standardized course, but more a compilation of lectures that have been given through the VetGirl platform. The requirements for certification often change depending on lectures that are available. Usually have information about: pet food myths, food allergies, gastrointestinal disease, weight loss, novel diets, pet food marketing, and WASVA guidelines.
Non-Degree Certificates, IAABC Approved
This list is by no way all-inclusive, as there are some individual lectures available at conferences. For those who are un-aware the IAABC is the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants – this certification requires yearly continuing education and has standards as far as who can present information (must be a degree-holding expert), and information presented must be scientifically supported. You can see the full CEU policy here.
Dog Science Certificate in Canine Nutrition $447
30 hrs, 3 mini-courses – not RACE approved
Taught by Linda Case, MS Animal Nutrition
A comprehensive program in basic nutrition, feeding management throughout life, & pet food evaluation and selection, designed for dog enthusiasts & professionals. Learn the latest research regarding canine nutritional science, recommendations for food assessment & selection, and best feeding practices for dogs throughout life. Includes: Basics of Canine Nutrition (metabolism protein, fat, carbohydrates, energy needs, digestibility), Lifestage & Lifestyle Nutrition – including performance dog nutrition, and finally the history of dog food – commercial and homemade, pet food marketing, and how dog food is made.
CASI: Canine Nutrition Certificate $800
Apx 50+ hours – not RACE approved
Taught by Susan Dillon, Diploma in Human Nutrition through Huntington College, and taken courses at Purdue University and Colorado State University in Animal Nutrition.
“The Certificate in Canine Nutrition (Cert.CN) program is a solid science-based foundational exploration of nutrients, life-stage nutrition, digestive anatomy, and other topics related to this area of study. This program provides the solid foundation of knowledge necessary to understand canine nutrition. This program of study is not cursory and basic; we have designed this program of study to be more comprehensive and advanced than any other program available for personal interest. This program of study would be of interest to anyone wanting to gain a solid understanding of canine nutrition and possibly prepare themselves for an advanced program of study in the future. While this program does not include coursework in consulting skills, professional ethics or business practices, it is comprehensive with regards to topics in nutrition science.”
University Courses / Certifications Animal Nutrition
Below are a list of university level courses that can be taken online and focus on companion animal nutrition – there are other courses available in person, or that cover other species such as farm-animal, equine or exotics. But I did not include them in this list. Eight veterinary schools within the USA have requirements for animal nutrition in order to apply, as there are only 30 veterinary colleges in the USA, most veterinarians will have taken at least one of these (or similar) courses as part of their education.
Purdue University: Principles of Animal Nutrition $1,537.14
Single 3 unit course, 54 hours of instruction, can apply for RACE approval
Taught by Dale Forsyth, phD Animal Nutrition
“In this single course, learn all aspects of nutrition for domestic animals, from fundamentals of nutrition through feeds and feeding. The principles apply to all mammalian and avian species, but there will be an emphasis on swine, beef cattle, dairy cattle, poultry and horses. Feeds most commonly used in the United States will be emphasized, but feeds and principles of their use that are important to animals throughout the world will be considered.”
North Carolina Animal Nutrition Certificate ~$9,000
12 units, four university level courses, 210 hours of instruction, can apply for RACE approval
Taught by Shannon Pratt Phillips, phD Animal Nutrition
“The University Certificate in Animal Nutrition is designed to allow people to gain recognition for learning the basics of animal nutrition at the undergraduate level. People who successfully complete the required courses will learn about livestock, horse, and companion animal nutrition.
Comparative Nutrition: Principles of nutrition, including the classification of nutrients and the nutrient requirements of and metabolism by different species for health, growth, maintenance and productive functions.
Principals of Animal Nutrition: This online Principles of Animal Nutrition course is designed for non-Animal Science majors and off-campus students. It includes: feed classification, gastrointestinal tract anatomy of domestic mammals, nutrients and their functions, digestion and metabolism, feed regulations, and feeding/nutrition of cattle, small ruminants, horses, swine, poultry, dogs, cats, and rabbits.
Feed Manufacturing Technology: Feed mill management, feed ingredient purchasing, inventory, storage, and quality evaluation, computerized feed formulation, feeding programs for poultry and swine, feed mill design, equipment, maintenance, operation, safety, state and federal regulations pertaining to feed manufacture.”
Optional Additional courses in dairy/cattle nutrition, poultry science, and equine science.
Southern Illinois University Animal Nutrition
Canine and Feline Certificate (no university credit) $1,500
Three, 3 unit courses (162 hours), 5-6 month program , can apply for RACE approval – 8 CEUs
Taught by Amer AbuGhazaleh, phD Animal Nutrition
“Introduction to Nutrition: The basic principles of nutrition and nutrient metabolism are covered. Topics include the six major nutrients (carbohydrates, lipids, protein, vitamins, minerals, and water), the digestive process, nutrients utilization, and diseases as they relate to nutrition.
Canine and Feline Nutrition: The focus is on nutrient requirement and feeding during the life cycle (maintenance, growth, gestation, lactation, seniors and performance) of cats and dogs. Nutrient digestion and metabolism, energy balance, and food processing, evaluation and labeling are explored.
Companion Animal Clinical Nutrition: Students learn about nutrition and feeding management for canines and felines during obesity, cancer, diabetes, urolithiasis, dental disease, dermatological disease, hepatic and gastrointestinal disorders, mobility and muscular disorders, heart disease and critical care. Metabolic diseases in other pets will be also explored.”
Companion Animal Nutrition Diploma (university credit) $7000
18 units total – in six courses (324 hours), 1 year program, can apply for RACE approval – 23 CEUs
Taught by Amer AbuGhazaleh, phD Animal Nutrition
This non-degree diploma allows you to use course credits towards further degree options such as a bachelors or masters degree. It includes the three classes above, plus an additional three courses:
“Introduction to Companion Animal Nutrition: The focus is on the basic science of companion animal nutrition and the nutrient needs of dogs and cats, horses, rabbits, birds, aquarium fish, rodents and reptiles. Students also learn about the different types and forms of pet food, how to evaluate pet food, and regulations of pet food and pet food labeling.
Ration Formulation for Companion Animals: Students learn about the basic characteristics of common feeds used in companion animal diets and the principles of utilizing these feeds to meet animal requirements for maintenance and throughout the life-cycle.
Recent Topics in Companion Animal Nutrition: Written communication skills are enhanced while learning to critique literature concerning current topics in the field of companion animal nutrition.”
Illinois University Companion Animal Nutrition Certificate $6,408
Apx 1-1.5 yr program, requires 3, 3 unit courses – total of around 162 hrs. Can apply for RACE approval.
Requires a bachelors in order to take this certificate program.
Taught by Kelly S. Swanson phD Animal Nutrition, Maria R. C. de Godoy phD Animal Nutrition
“The Companion Animal Nutrition Certificate program is an online non-degree program that gives industry professionals, veterinarians, animal scientists, pet breeders, and pet enthusiasts the opportunity to take in-depth courses on various aspects of companion animal nutrition. Course topics include canine and feline metabolism, nutrient functions and requirements, pet nutrition and disease, pet food ingredients, principles of diet formulation, pet food processing technologies, good manufacturing practices, pet food regulations, and market trends.
Companion Animal Nutrition: digestive physiology and basic nutritional considerations of companion animals, with primary focus on dogs and cats. Topics will include macronutrient and micronutrient digestion, metabolism, and function, nutritional idiosyncrasies of dogs and cats, unique nutritional needs throughout the life cycle, nutrient needs during exercise, common pet food ingredients, and nutritional sustainability.
Pet Food and Feed Manufacturing: processing technologies (e.g., extrusion, retorting, baking) involved in the manufacturing of pet foods, principles of diet formulation and nutritional guidelines, and an overview of labeling regulations, and good manufacturing practices.
Advanced Companion Animal Nutrition: advanced concepts related to pet nutrition and disease, including the metabolism within healthy and diseased dogs and cats, how nutrition may aid in preventing and treating disease, and the science behind use of nutraceutical ingredients in diet formulation and manufacturing. Students will develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills by applying the concepts taught in this course using real-world scenarios.”
Advanced Online Degrees in Animal Nutrition
University of Glasgow – Masters in Animal Nutrition ~$15,000
Full graduate program for a Master’s in Animal Nutrition. This is a three-year course taken part-time, taught by university professors with phD in related Animal Nutrition fields. This program requires a bachelors degree in a related field and relevant and substantial industry experience to apply.
Total of 180 units for Masters, with over 3000 hours of instruction.
- Dissertation in Animal Nutrition
- Current Topics in Animal Nutrition
- Digestive Anatomy and Physiology
- Feed Composition and Evaluation
- Nutrition Biochemistry and Metabolism
- Research Methods for Animal Sciences
- Applied Nutrition Monogastrics
- Feed Processing Monogastrics
- Nutrition and Health
- Feed Industry
ACVN Diplomat – A Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist
Require a veterinarian license (minimum of 8 years of education) , clinical rotation of at least 1 year, plus an additional two years residency under an ACVN diplomat, publication in a veterinary medical journal, three detailed case reports, and a two-day written examination. Depending on the residency program, additional graduate level coursework may be required.
Veterinary Technician Specialty Nutrition – VTS Nutrition
Requires a veterinary technician/nurse license, 3 years of experience as an RVT/CVT/LVT/RVN, 40 hours of CE units in nutrition, the completion of a knowledge test, and skills test, clinical or research case management plus 5 detailed case studies, plus an examination, and two recommendations from certified nutrition/veterinary professionals.
There are a lot of options out there for advanced certifications in animal nutrition, and I know deciding which course or certification would be best for your situation may be overwhelming. Personally I think starting small and working your way up is the best idea , but you can definitely go full-force into a higher education certificate if you desire.
Do you plan on taking additional courses or certifications? Do you have experiences with one of the courses mentioned?
About the Author: Nikki is a Registered Veterinary Technician (Veterinary Nurse) and Dog Mom with over a decade of experience with dogs and cats. Since graduation from college (BS Biology, AS Animal Health -2013) she has adopted two mixed breed dogs – Ranger and Ash, and has focused her time learning about pet food and nutrition.
Nikki shares information on a range of dog nutrition topics: from how to create a homemade complete and balanced dog food recipes, to how to choose a dog food. Nikki strives to give dog parents the information they need in order to make the best nutrition decisions for their pup!
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