How to Become a Pet Nutritionist or Vet

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Have you always wanted to know how to become a vet? Or maybe how to become a pet nutritionist? You've come to the right place.

Veterinarians are a different breed of doctor. Besides the tough competition, trying odds and staggering workload common to all medical professions, veterinarians also face being scratched, bitten and sprayed with anal gland fluid. It's clear vets have to really love what they do.

As for becoming a pet nutritionist, it takes dedication and grit to gain the food science knowledge required to develop better meal plans for animals and make individualized recommendations for pets. Someone studying companion animal nutrition has to have a true passion for helping pets live longer, healthier lives.

Read on to catch a glimpse into how vets become vets and how pet nutritionists get to where they are. Along the way, you'll be treated to tips and tricks of the trade.

Beagle getting his ear examined by vet

How to Become a Vet 101

The first thing veterinarians always tell aspiring veterinarians is: "You can do it!" Ignore all the naysayers who say, "But it's so hard!" What you need when you're first starting is encouragement. After all, animals need more people like you.

Here's a brief run-down of what's required:

  • A strong interest in (that is, love of) animals
  • Lots of determination
  • A positive, steadfast and motivated nature
  • Four years in veterinary school
  • Passing a national vet exam and state license exam

The International Council for Veterinary Assessment offers the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination twice a year for all vet candidates in the U.S. and Canada. Just like the bar exam for lawyers or the physical test to become a firefighter, it ensures that everyone who wants to enter the profession is educated and ethically prepared.

Education Requirements

There is no age at which anyone is considered too old to become a vet. A four-year undergraduate degree from an accredited institution is generally required to enter veterinary school, but no particular major is absolutely required. Most prospective vets tend to major in the biological sciences, but art history and philosophy are not unheard-of.

Prerequisites for entry into veterinary schools may vary. Depending on the school, one of several standardized examinations may be required as a prerequisite. If you're thinking about getting a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) or a Veterinariae Medicinae Doctoris (VMD), the two main veterinary degrees, you should select a few favorite schools and read their online admissions pages. Applications are due nearly a year in advance in most cases, so start preparing early.

Veterinary school is a 24/7 endeavor. Outside jobs on top of classes and clinical work are discouraged, so you may have to plan your finances carefully. Student loans are readily available but it always makes sense to read the financial aid pages for each veterinary program you're considering applying to.

Vet Specialties

Veterinarians may specialize in companion animals, large animal and agricultural species or exotic animals. After successful graduation and examination, an individual license must be obtained in the state you intend to practice. If a vet elects to enter public service (working for the government) or industry (such as a pharmaceutical company), state licensing is not usually required. Vets can work in any number of areas: zoos, research institutions, the federal government, pet product manufacturers or pet food companies, for example.

The most commonly elected field is general private practice. This includes your typical hometown veterinary clinic position and large-scale corporate practice. Future general practitioners should know that their work will consist of lots of hands-on care performing physical examinations and plenty of work one-on-one with the public, so people skills can be just as important as animal know-how.

Practicing veterinarians may elect to specialize even further. Some may obtain PhDs and enter research and academia. Want to be a feline ophthalmologist? Others may elect to complete a residency in surgery, internal medicine, cardiology or dermatology, among other possibilities, writes the American Veterinary Medical Association. Specialists tend to work in private veterinary practices or in specialty hospitals.

Vet feeding a kitten with a syringe

How to Become a Pet Nutritionist

Like veterinarians, pet nutritionists are scientists first. A strong curiosity for animals and biology is crucial. An interest in or talent for statistics and computers is strongly recommended, as the nutritional sciences are often data-intensive. Pet nutritionists conduct and analyze important research for animals' health and longevity.

Pet nutritionists generally require a four-year undergraduate degree in animal sciences, biological science or agricultural science. Financial aid is often available for those who study animal nutrition.

Pet nutritionists may receive further training on the job. Many go on to obtain master's degrees or PhDs in this field. The American College of Veterinary Nutrition maintains a helpful lineup of conferences and programs for vet students interested in how to become a pet nutritionist.

Avenues for work as a nutritionist include:

  • Academic research to identify better ways to feed pets
  • Research and development for pet food companies devising healthy pet foods (You, too, could be chasing around 450 cats and 450 dogs in the Hill's Global Pet Nutrition Center.)
  • Working for the government helping regulate pet food quality and safety, like the Association of American Feed Control Officials
  • Working with the public helping pet owners select better food for their pets

Now you know how to become a vet (and how to become a pet nutritionist), but the action is up to you. Remember, you can be anything you work hard for. So what are you waiting for? Go get that degree, and start helping pets and their humans.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Patty Khuly

Dr. Patty Khuly is an honors graduate of both Wellesley College and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. She received her MBA at The Wharton School of Business as part of the prestigious VMD/MBA dual-degree program. She's now the proud owner of Sunset Animal Clinic in Miami, Florida. But that's not all. Dr. K is a nerdy reader, avid knitter, hot yoga fanatic, music geek, struggling runner, and indefatigable foodie. She lives in South Miami with three dogs, countless cats, two rescued goats and a hilarious flock of hens.

You can follow her writing at DrPattyKhuly.com and at SunsetVets.com.

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