How to Perform a Complete Nutritional Assessment

The five vital assessments of a standard physical exam for small animals include temperature, pulse, respiration, pain, and nutritional assessment.3 The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) recommends nutrition as the fifth vital assessment to optimize the health and wellbeing of pets. The AAHA Advisory Panel endorses this recommendation.


The Circle of Nutrition. Consider these interconnected variables during nutritional assessment. Factors specific to the animal, the diet, and feeding management/environment should be assessed. (Reprinted with permission from the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.)

The nutritional assessment is an iterative process that requires repeated assessment over the animal’s lifetime. The factors evaluated included animal- and diet-specific factors and feeding management (Figure 1). Animal-specific factors refer to the age, physiological status, and activity of the pet. Diet-specific factors include the safety and appropriateness of the diet for the specific patient. Feeding management encompasses not only the frequency, timing, location, and method of feeding but also the pet’s environment and human-related factors. Specific problems related to each factor should be identified and addressed individually (Table 1).

Table 1

Problems and Management for Animal-Specific, Diet-Specific, and Feeding Management Factors
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Animal-specific Factors >




Nutrient-sensitive disorders

  • Adverse food reactions
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Organ-specific disease

Selection of diets formulated to address the specific disease-associated nutrient limitations

Diet-specific factors >




Diet-induced disorders

  • Nutrient imbalance
  • Spoilage
  • Contamination
  • Adulteration

Feeding a diet appropriate for the animal

Feeding management >




Feeding-related and environmentalrelated disorders

  • Over- or underfeeding
  • Excessive use of treats
  • Poor husbandry
  • Competitive eating
  • Lack of appropriate environmental stimulation

Effective communication with the client

These guidelines are supported by generous educational grants from Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc., Purina® Pro Plan® Veterinary Diets, and Royal Canin®.