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Resources to help evaluate a pet's current nutrition and guide nutrition recommendations. 

Nutritional Assessment

Nutritional Assessment Is an Iterative Process: Screening Evaluation

Each dog and cat can benefit from a nutritional recommendation ꟷ a recommendation that clients say they want, including for their healthy pets. To make an appropriate recommendation, however, it is necessary to perform a nutritional assessment. Steps in performing a nutritional assessment include evaluating the patient, the diet, feeding management and environmental factors; making a specific nutritional recommendation; and reassessing the patient and recommendation as needed.

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Studies show pet owners consider the veterinary health care team to be the primary — and often the most important — source of nutrition information.

Key Messages

  • A screening nutritional assessment can be easily integrated into existing clinic protocols for patient consultations or appointments. A good physical examination already includes many components of a screening evaluation. 
  • A screening nutritional assessment includes: 
    • Body weight 
    • Body condition score 
    • Muscle condition score 
    • Complete diet history 
    • Abnormalities identified during physical examination 
  • A healthy pet without nutritional risk factors needs no further nutritional assessment, just a nutritional recommendation. However, an extended nutritional assessment is necessary if a patient has one or more nutritional risk factors, such as a medical condition, an abnormal body condition or muscle condition score, or is consuming an unconventional diet (e.g., home-cooked or raw diet). 
  • Before making a nutritional recommendation, evaluate the existing diet, feeding methods and environment to determine appropriateness for the pet. Consider the answers to these and other questions: 
    • Is the diet nutritionally complete and balanced?  
    • Given the pet’s estimated maintenance energy requirement, is the current amount of food and treats provided appropriate? 
    • Do calories from treats, human foods or supplements represent more than 10% of the total daily calories? 
    • Is food provided in measured amounts, regardless of whether the pet is fed free choice or meals? 
    • Does the pet have to compete for food within a multi-pet home? 
  • The nutritional or dietary evaluation and recommendation should include the pet’s main food, treats, table food, feeding method, frequency and location. If no changes are needed, let the owner know, as this provides positive reinforcement of what the owner is doing. Whether or not changes are needed, be sure to document the specific recommendation in the pet’s medical record. 
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"As part of [pet’s name] medical history, we would like to gather some information about [his/her] diet. Would you please tell me about everything [pet’s name] eats during a normal day, starting from first thing in the morning and ending at bedtime?"

To Share With Pet Owner:

Evaluating Your Cat’s Body Condition

Assess your cat's Body Condition in just 3 simple steps.​

View Video 1 min to 5 min

Evaluating Your Dog’s Body Condition

Assess your dog's Body Condition in just 3 simple steps.​

View Video 1 min to 5 min

Canine Body Condition System Sheet

A visual aid to the Purina Body Condition Score System for dogs.​

View Tool 1 min to 5 min

Feline Body Condition System Sheet

A visual aid to the Purina Body Condition Score System for cats.​

View Tool 1 min to 5 min

Additional Resources

Freeman, L., Becvarova, I., Cave, N., MacKay, C., Nguyen, P., Rama, B., Takashima, G., Tiffin, R., Tsjimoto, H., & van Beukelen, P. (2011). WSAVA nutritional assessment guidelines. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 52(7), 385─396. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-5827.2011.01079.x 

Kealy, R. D., Lawler, D. F., Ballam, J. M., Mantz, S. L., Biery, D. N., Greeley, E. H., Lust, G., Segre, M., Smith, G. K., & Stowe, H. D. (2002). Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 220(9), 1315─1320. doi: 10.2460/javma.2002.220.1315 

Laflamme, D. P. (1997). Development and validation of a body condition score system for cats: A clinical tool. Feline Practice 25(5-6), 13-18. 

Laflamme, D. P. (1997). Development and validation of a body condition score system for dogs. Canine Practice, 22(4), 10-15. 

Laflamme, D. P., Abood, S. K., Fascetti, A. J., Fleeman, L. M., Freeman, L. M., Michel, K. E., Bauer, C., Kemp, B. L., Doren, J. R., & Willoughby, K. N. (2008). Pet feeding practices of dog and cat owners in the United States and Australia. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 232(5), 687─694. doi: 10.2460/javma.232.5.687 

Ness, K., & Cameron, K. (2020). Pet owners beg for nutrition advice. Today’s Veterinary Business, 4(4), 26─27. 

Schleicher, M., Cash, S. B., & Freeman, L. M. (2019). Determinants of pet food purchasing decisions. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 60(6), 644─650.