The mantra of “we are what eat” is not limited to human animals. Nutrition is just as important to furry friends as it is to the humans who care for them. So while pet owners might not think twice about how that unwanted scrap of food thrown from the dinner table can affect their dog, the choice to feed their pet beyond pet food may have a negative impact on their pet’s health.
Extra calories from dinner scraps, for instance, can add up over time and turn into excess weight, leading to diseases exacerbated by obesity like arthritis, tumors, heart conditions, and others. Unfortunately for pets, poor dietary health and nutrition are not a rarity; the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) reported that the majority of both cats and dogs in the U.S. were overweight or obese in 2018—60 percent of cats and 56 percent of dogs, specifically. This may be because these pets are not getting enough exercise, eating the wrong kind or too much food, or even because a medical issue has gone undiagnosed. In the modern world of animal medicine, veterinary nutrition techs are an essential part of the solution.
Before the 1960s, when veterinarians needed help taking care of technical and administrative tasks, they hired students or tapped office workers to help. Untrained workers would complete tasks like feeding the animals, cleaning their cages, and managing office operations. However, as the field of animal health became more complex, a need arose for a well-educated staff that could take on greater responsibilities. The vet tech role was born from this need, and vet techs became the formally trained staff that freed veterinarians from routine tasks so they could focus on implementing high-level skills like diagnosis, performing surgical procedures, and designing treatment plans.
As the veterinary medicine world continued to gain complexity, the need for specialized knowledge and skills began to emerge. With the rise in nutrition-related issues for pets, the need for veterinary technicians with specialist expertise in nutrition is on the rise as well. To free veterinarians to focus on what they do best, veterinary nutrition techs provide the detailed guidance animals’ owners need to handle dietary matters and understand the true importance of good nutrition to animal health. To that end, veterinary nutrition technicians can recommend exercise programs, identify better sources of- and portions for- nutritional food, and educate pet owners about how to better care for their animals.
Veterinary Nutrition Career Outlook
As pet owners’ interest in their animals’ health increases, so do the job opportunities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2020) data, the total number of jobs for veterinary technicians working in the U.S. is expected to increase significantly between 2019 and 2029. With a projected rise of 16 percent in that decade, the rate of growth is four times that of the average occupational growth rate (4 percent) and will result in 18,300 new vet tech jobs. By 2029, there are going to be 131,200 job opportunities for vet techs across the United States.
In their 2018 survey, APOP found that 68 percent of pet owners want a veterinarian to recommend a diet for their pets, and report that the best diet recommendations came from veterinary clinics. Despite the openness that pet owners have toward understanding nutrition from their vets, only 53 percent of pet owners reported discussing pet weight during annual visits. Veterinary technicians with specialized knowledge in nutrition can be the solution to meeting the demand for information and education of this kind.
Veterinary technician nutrition specialists can look to the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians to find leads on jobs or at the American Veterinary Medical Association job board that features a variety of employment opportunities available for vet techs and veterinarians.
Veterinary Nutrition Technician Salary Data
The recognition of specializations within the veterinary technology world is relatively new – emerging only in 1994. As a result, salary data for veterinary nutrition technicians is not tracked specifically. This discussion will cover general vet tech salaries.
According to the BLS (May 2019), the 110,650 vet techs working in 2019 made an average annual salary of $36,670 or $17.63 per hour. The following represents how much vet techs made at different earning levels in that same year—the latest data available as of March 2021:
|Average annual salary||$36,670||$17.63|
|50th percentile (median)||$35,320||$16.98|
Job Requirements – Education & Experience of Nutrition Vet Techs
The most common way to become a licensed, registered, or certified vet tech requires the completion of a two-year vet tech program, followed by passing the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE). While these programs do not prepare graduates for a specialty in nutrition, most American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) approved programs adjudicated by the Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA) will include at least one course on animal nutrition.
Vet techs who wish to specialize in nutrition will need to do so through on-the-job experiences and continuing education (CE) that focuses on animal nutrition. Aspiring veterinary nutrition techs can find helpful resources through the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition (AAVN), an academy that the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) provisionally recognizes as the organization responsible for determining the standards by which veterinary technician specialists can earn a speciality certification in animal nutrition. AAVN’s Facebook page allows members to stay up-to-date on upcoming seminars and to read recent articles on relevant topics (e.g., promoting longevity in animals).
Becoming a vet tech requires the capacity to work with animals physically, and work with pet owners on an interpersonal and emotional level. A crucial part of being a veterinary nutrition technician is the ability to clearly communicate to pet owners how to make changes in their pet’s diet, try new techniques to improve health, or integrate supplements into their pet’s dietary regime.
Manual dexterity, strong communication, and compassion are also desirable skills. According to the BLS, 90 percent of vet techs work in veterinary clinics or animal hospitals, with the remainder working in research settings at universities or in social advocacy organizations like human societies.
How To Become a Vet Nutrition Tech
Graduates of veterinary technician programs need to obtain licensure or become registered to work in their state.
Step 1: Complete an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology (two to four years)
As mentioned above, the most common pathway to a vet tech career is earning a two-year associate’s degree or completing a two-year certificate program in veterinary technology. Because two-year programs are designed to prepare graduates to join the workforce as vet tech generalists, there may not be an option to specialize in nutrition at this level. That said, most AVMA-accredited programs, like the one at Windward Community College in Hawaii, will offer introductory coursework in animal nutrition.
Aspiring vet techs who know they’re interested in the nutrition specialization and wish to pursue it through formal training can consider earning a bachelor’s degree. Because these programs last longer and often offer flexibility in terms of electives, it’s possible to customize one’s education to focus on animal nutrition. An example of this is the BA program at Becker College in Massachusetts. Thirty-three units of the 120-unit vet tech degree allow for students to choose their electives. Electives that include discussions of animal nutrition include equine nutrition, animal nutrition, and animal facilities design and management.
Regardless of whether a vet tech chooses a two- or four-year program, participating in internships, externships, or volunteer experiences that allow them to gain skills in animal nutrition is recommended at this stage.
Step 2: Take the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE)
This computer-based test offered through the American Association of Veterinary State Boards assesses the skills of entry-level vet techs. Results are sent to state licensing agencies such as a state veterinary board. Applicants who have passed the VTNE and met other state requirements may be on their way to becoming a registered vet technician (RVT), licensed vet technician (LVT), or certified vet technician (CVT).
Step 3: Pursue hands-on skills and continuing education in animal nutrition (timeline varies)
After passing the VTNE, a vet tech who wishes to specialize as a nutritionist should begin seeking opportunities to do hands-on animal nutrition work at veterinary hospitals, clinics, or research facilities. Vet techs at this stage can also boost their animal nutrition knowledge by pursuing continuing education (CE) courses that specifically train the vet tech to become more skilled in the realm of animal nutrition and pet caretaker education.
At this particular point in time, no specialized certifications are required to work as a veterinary nutrition technician. This means that a tech can continue to gain knowledge and skills informally through work experience or CEs. Those looking for official recognition of their skills can consider the optional step 5 listed below.
Step 4 (Optional): Become a member of a professional association.
For a recurring yearly membership fee, professional organizations offer vet techs opportunities for networking, continuing education, conferences, professional advocacy, job opportunities, and more. The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) is an example of a professional organization that helps vet techs to stay up-to-date on industry news and networking opportunities. The organization offers associate and student memberships, provides information about upcoming events, offers continuing education, and publishes the bi-monthly NAVTA Journal, which is the only educational publication sanctioned by NAVTA.
Step 5 (Optional): Become a veterinary technician specialist (VTS) in nutrition. (three years)
The title VTS is an indication that a vet tech has put in the work and time to understand and practice a veterinary specialty at a high level. Earning a VTS (Nutrition) certification can make a vet tech more competitive in the job market if they’re seeking new employment, can lead to increased pay in their current position, and/or can be a way to motivate a vet tech to practice at a higher standard.
The Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians (AVNT) is the organization that offers VTS (Nutrition) credentialing. To qualify to sit for the credentialing exam, candidates are required to provide the following:
- Proof of vet tech registration, licensure, or certification.
- Proof of at least 4,000 hours of experience (three years) in animal nutrition
- Proof of 40 hours of CE in animal nutrition or research on animal nutrition
- A veterinary nutrition technician skills form, signed off by a mentor
- A clinical case log with 40 to 60 cases, or one research log documenting one study
- Five detailed case reports
- Two letters of recommendation
- $50 application fee
- $200 exam fee
To learn more about how to join other specialized vet tech careers, please visit the guide to becoming a vet tech specialist (VTS).