Can you become a Canine Nutritionist in the UK?

Canine Nutrition is as I write this, a really hot topic in the dog world.

Dog owners are questioning the diet they have been feeding their pets. Dog trainers and professionals are noticing the difference food makes to health and behaviour.
Whether a love for dogs, a passion for all things natural or a desire to go against the norm, the desire for knowledge on dog nutrition and diet is growing – and fast!

Many of you are signing up for e-courses on dog nutrition and diet and
lots more people are now emailing me to ask:
‘ How can I be ‘qualified’ in dog nutrition, is it possible?’

Well, here is the answer.
You can’t, well you kind of can… sort of – there are limitations.

As the current legislation stands only pet shop owners, or those who work for a dog food company are able to discuss dog food and diets with dog owners for a profit.
This is due to the Veterinary Act 1966 and the Veterinary Act Exemptions order 1962 which highlight that in the UK anything that is Invasive, i.e. involves something that enters the dog’s body to create change, such as herbal medicine, acupuncture or homeopathy is only permitted to be practiced by a vet.
At the moment Nutrition isn’t mentioned in the vet acts, so it remains something of a grey area in terms of being able to legally consult or become qualified as an authority on the subject. As a therapy or practice that makes changes to the chemistry of a dogs body nutrition and diet could potentially fall under the act should anything happen to a dog as a result of any consultation or advice given.
This fact though may only influence the ability to obtain insurance to practice, rather than stop anyone actually creating a canine nutrition practice.
In other words, you could do any course, claim a title of your choice and ‘offer consultations in nutrition for dogs’ but the bottom line is nutrition is something that changes body chemistry and is invasive so you could be subject to the Vet Act legalities if anything happened to a dog you worked with and the owner or their vet wanted to pursue things.

What about the people already doing it?
Sheer passion and love for dogs has led to a handful of people genuinely knowledgeable in the subject to offer advice and consults to dog owners, and quite rightly so. The dogs need all the helpful input we can provide.
However most of these people (although not all) have some link to either a pet food company – for support and ultimately insurance-like back up, a Holistic vet or they own a pet shop and so fall under the category of a pet shop owner selling pre-packaged dog food and advising on what pet owners should buy (even its it just plain minces for instance).
Studying a human nutritional therapy ( using food as a healing tool/therapy) course can provide the basis of understanding why dogs also need fresh, real food as much as people do. Many of the passionate people offering consults for dogs have also obtained a human nutritional therapy qualification before educating themselves on how that relates to canines.

Where can I find a training course to become a nutritionist for dogs?
Currently there are no specific trainings offered in the UK to become a recognised, qualified, professional ‘canine nutritionist’ or canine Nutritional Therapist.
Except for vets. Yet of all the vets in the UK there are only handful of who have achieved the title Canine Nutritionist. They have done so by undertaking animal science degrees or a veterinary degree & an animal science degree afterwards. Essentially studying nutrient chemistry for a very long time to achieve the title. These qualified people can be found either working for companies that create premixes* or are lecturers in universities. None are running consultation practices because they believe in the science and chemistry behind processed pet foods.
(*Premixes are the general multi vitamin type powders that are included in processed dog foods so they can be deemed ‘Complete’.)

The reason there is no professional qualification is simply because there is nobody prepared to provide the ‘certification’ needed to overcome the vet act mentioned above. The governing body and who’s concern includes the UK Vet Act 1962 and 1966 is the veterinary industry, more specifically the Royal College of Vet Surgeons. The RCVS so far haven’t (and are very unlikely to in the future) funded or certified a canine nutrition course that leaves pet owners able to question the Complete guidelines or the science they feel is behind processed pet foods.
Recently there has been a course on canine nutrition run for veterinary nurses, certified by the veterinary nurses own organisation. Undertaking the course has not led to veterinary nurses being able to consult, but has allowed them to learn more in a relatively recognised way.

What can I do to improve my knowledge or help dogs?
For now the best thing any pet owner, dog trainer, groomer or other canine professional with an interest in dog food, diet and nutrition can really do is, to read as much as possible and attend lectures by fantastic holistic vets or people such as myself who have human nutritional therapy qualifications, have had experience working with holistic vets, pet food companies and, most importantly, with dogs and owners themselves.
You could also of course buy yourself a glass topped chest freezer and begin to stock real/raw pet foods in your groomers or start a small pet shop, whilst that doesn’t provide a qualification it does allow you to discuss pet food with dog owners openly.

The views of more traditional fans of processed pet food are that the dogs body simply needs a certain set of chemicals (nutrients), in certain amounts, to go into the body each day to achieve health.
Natural or holistic views are that the dogs body needs to be in a certain state of health to actually absorb the nutrients from the food provided, and secondly to utilise them at the cellular level.
We believe only fresh, real food has the ability to sustain that state of health.
This is the understanding many homeopathic or holistic vets have, and so they are suitably placed, even without having studied canine nutrition as a qualification itself to comment on ways to improve a dog’s ailments by improving its state of health through diet.

A dog’s body needs nutrients for sure, but it also needs the nutritional elements that create the state of health required for those nutrients to be of use.
The nutritional elements are not included in the guidelines for a Complete food,
most of the elements do not withstand processing methods. The dog misses out on much needed nutrition by eating only processed food.

Much of my previous seminars have focused on this understanding.
Explaining why, for me, it’s not the bad stuff in processed food that is the main issue, it’s what isn’t in it that is the issue!
Sharing what the nutritional elements are, why they are important and what is the state of health we should be aiming for in our dogs.
The state of health that not only achieves nutrient absorption and utilisation, but most promotes immunity, wellness and calm behaviours too.
(Clue – your dogs gut system and probiotic balance plays a huge role!)

Any course you come across that leaves you still viewing processed foods as suitable for long-term feeding and health hasn’t understood or conveyed to you the way the dog’s body works.
Occasionally pet owner led practicalities deem a processed food more suitable, but that doesn’t mean it is the most sustainable food for the dog.
Some dogs are also only kept alive by the fact they can eat processed food – usually (but not always) these dogs have got to such a stage because the nutritional elements were missing from their food, thus influencing their state of health.

I hope this article brings a greater understanding to the subject of studying and consulting in canine nutrition.
I recognise the frustration in not having a qualification that ‘backs up’ what you know to be true. All we can do is lead by example – fighting anything or holding on to the frustration won’t leave you in the state of health you need to be in, to be the example.

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