Inside AAHA: March 2021

AAHA Vice President Margot K. Vahrenwald, DVM, CVJ, discusses the importance of nutrition conversations. Also: Temple Grandin joins VMI, 2021 AAHA/AAFP Feline Life Stage Guidelines, and Dear AAHA addresses a question about staff privacy.

View from the Board

Nutrition: An Essential Conversation

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” —Hippocrates

Nutrition is one of those key topics that can be a conversation starter or stopper with clients—you can find really polarized positions on pet foods or feel uncomfortable broaching a difficult topic with someone who may have their own issues with weight management and human nutrition. And yet we want to support our clients in taking the best care of their pets, so we must persevere no matter how awkward it might feel.

Food may be medicine as well as the manna of life, but it is not without controversy in veterinary medicine. How many conversations are you having each day about nutrition? Grain-free versus grain-inclusive? Brands and recipes available? How many overweight to obese pets in the practice this week? It’s a bit of a battleground, and I think many veterinarians and their teams feel, like me, that we’re not quite well enough armed educationally but we are expected to be experts by our clients.

I always try to find out how a client became attached to a particular brand or recipe—was it Dr. Google? Was it the breeder, a friend, or a neighbor? Or did they do research of some kind to identify this diet as appropriate for their pet? Supporting the good and reasonable diets, I will also discuss some of the pitfalls of pet foods, their labeling, and their advertising.

This year was the first time that I had a client threatened by a breeder into feeding a particular grain-free brand because if she didn’t sign up to get the food, the breeder would nullify the purchase contract and take back the puppy. The breeder was a “brand representative,” and puppy owners were required to feed the food for a minimum of two years with purchases being made through the breeder’s website to be tracked. The puppy has been home with this owner now for about four months and she’s realized that there are no legal teeth in the contract and is transitioning to a different food of her choice, but she really felt bulldozed into the former food—and was never told more than that this was the best and only food that should be fed because of its high quality. To me, this makes our role as experts on nutrition even more important so that we can guide clients in the right direction.

Nutrition and weight management conversations are essential to the health of our patients. I’m always looking for ways to convey reliable information to help educate pet owners and arm myself against the prolific misinformation and food myths that abound online. One significant resource is the AAHA Weight Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats, due to be updated soon. Like all our new guidelines in recent years, these guidelines are made live with great supporting tools available at that you can use with your team and clients for training and education.

Margot Vahrenwald
Margot K. Vahrenwald, DVM, CVJ, is vice president of the AAHA Board of Directors. She is owner of Park Hill Veterinary Medical Center in Denver, Colorado.

Temple Grandin Joins Veterinary Management Institute

What does it take to be a great leader of a veterinary practice? Veterinary Management Institute (VMI) is designed to guide experienced practice managers and owners to discover their own answer to that question, and equip them with the tools to achieve it.

Veterinary Management Institute

  • Five-month program
  • Cohort learning with a group of peers
  • New facilitators
  • Updated content for current challenges

Now accepting applications for July 2021. Apply now!

The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed even the most seasoned managers to re-examine their leadership styles, and forced many to make difficult business decisions that affected every area from staffing and workflows to supply ordering and client relations, not to mention delivering high-quality medicine and compassionate patient care.

A collaboration between AAHA and Colorado State University (CSU), VMI is a rare opportunity to combine executive-level business training with world-renowned animal behavior expertise. The 2021 VMI sessions will feature a shortened format and refreshed content to address specific obstacles facing practices today. There will also be new facilitators, including Temple Grandin, PhD, who has been teaching at CSU for 25 years and is well known for her work promoting autism awareness as well as more humane treatment of animals.

“The VMI program combines the best that veterinary continuing education has to offer. Participants benefit from the know-how of AAHA and its accreditation practices and, in CSU, they get access to one of the top veterinary schools in the US and the leader in graduate business education in the state of Colorado,” said Jim Frucci, program manager of academic programs for CSU’s College of Business. “The program also brings instruction from subject-matter experts in areas key to the success of any veterinary practice. It continues to evolve and improve to provide the most effective veterinary CE experience in North America.”

AAHA Members: Updated Your Staff List Lately?

We want to be sure your team gets all the benefits they’ve earned as part of your accredited practice, including up to 50 hours of free CE from AAHA Learning! Log in to your member portal to keep your contacts up to date.

New! 2021 AAHA/AAFP Feline Life Stage Guidelines

AAHA and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) released updated guidelines to define distinct feline life stages consistent with how pet owners perceive their cat’s aging process. These guidelines provide quick-reference resources to develop an evolving, individualized, lifelong healthcare strategy for each feline patient at every life stage.

Use these updated guidelines to make compliance easy by efficiently explaining to pet owners how a cat’s physiology evolves as they mature. Intuitively, veterinary teams know that a kitten requires different care from a senior cat, but it’s easy for the differences to be glossed over in these hectic times.

“When you have discussions early on about claw care, litter box management, and common behavior issues, you help clients welcome kittens and young adult cats into their households,” said AAHA Chief Medical Officer Heather Loenser, DVM.

“Mature and senior cats have special needs as well—they benefit from a home- and veterinary-care team that can detect the subtle signs of degenerative changes, prioritizing the early detection of disease. These easy-to-use guidelines aid veterinary teams in just that and are a helpful clinical tool when developing preventive healthcare strategies.”

The guidelines are available online at from AAHA and the AAFP. They published in the Mar/Apr issue of the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association and in the March issue of the AAFP’s Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.

Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA, CareCredit, Dechra Veterinary Products, IDEXX Laboratories, Inc., Merck Animal Health, and Zoetis Petcare supported the development of the 2021 AAHA/AAFP Feline Life Stage Guidelines and resources through an educational grant to AAHA.


Dear AAHA,

We’re updating our employee handbook and, as part of our disaster preparedness documentation, we list every team member’s emergency contact information and allergies. Should we also list employees’ current medications?

—Handbook in Harrisburg

Dear Handbook,

As part of the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers may only ask about medications if it directly affects job performance, and sharing this information publicly in the handbook would be a violation of privacy. If the employee chooses to disclose their medications, you must keep it confidential, just as you would any other medical data. Even if employees sign a waiver giving permission to share it, the waiver does not override the law. You’re doing a great thing by updating your handbook! While you’re at it, you should have it reviewed by legal counsel. You’ll be doing yourself and your team a service by making sure everything is clear and accurate.

—AAHA’s Member Experience Team

Have a question you’d like AAHA to answer? Email us at

Photo credits: Photo courtesy of Rosalie Winard, photography by Adri/collection via Getty Images



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