What Does an Animal Nutritionist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image shows a woman sitting on the floor surrounded by a variety of farm birds. Text reads: "A day in the life of an animal nutritionist: work with veterinarians and veterinary technicians, work with a specific group of animals, responsible for creating a balancing rations, assess nutritional and caloric requirements based on animal's condition"

Image by Ashley Nicole DeLeon Â© The Balance 2019

An animal nutritionist is responsible for creating and balancing rations to ensure all dietary needs are met for animals under their supervision.

Animal Nutritionist Duties & Responsibilities

The job generally requires the ability to do the following tasks:

  • Consider the varied nutritional needs of different species as they formulate balanced food rations
  • Assess nutritional and caloric requirements based on an animal’s condition and type of physical activity such as performance, reproduction, lactation or overcoming nutritional deficiencies in cases of prior neglect
  • Use an assessment known as body condition scoring, to determine what adjustments should be made to an animal’s diet
  • Work in conjunction with veterinarians and veterinary technicians, zookeepers, wildlife rehabilitators, broodmare managers, and other animal professionals on research or teaching activities

Animal nutritionists can specialize by working with a specific group of animals such as companion breeds, livestock or exotic wildlife. Some nutritionists specialize their focus even further by working specifically with only one species such as horses, dairy cattle, dogs or cats.

Body condition scores generally range from one (extremely thin with no fat reserves) to nine (extremely obese) in cattle and horses an ideal score for these species would be a five. Cattle, swine, sheep, dogs, and cats are evaluated on a scale from one (extremely thin) to five (extremely obese). The ideal score for these species would be a three.

Generally, a nutritionist will feel the vertebrae, breastbone and ribs to determine the thickness of fat cover in these areas and make a visual assessment of the animal’s muscle structure before assigning a body condition score.

Animal Nutritionist Salary

Animal nutritionist salaries can vary widely based on years of experience, the level of education and the specific nature of their work.

  • Median Annual Salary: $72,702
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $115,000
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $40,000

Source: Payscale, 2019

Education Requirements & Qualifications

Animal nutritionists must take college courses in areas such as biology, chemistry, animal husbandry, animal nutrition, anatomy and physiology, mathematics, animal science, animal behavior, forage and food production, and ration formulation. During their education, animal nutritionists are taught both computerized methods of creating and balancing rations as well as how to accomplish the same results by hand.

Those working as college professors are usually required to conduct and publish research as they seek tenure in their departments.

  • Education: A Bachelor of Science degree is usually required for entry-level animal nutritionists. Many college programs offer undergraduate degrees in animal nutrition, but nutritionists may hold degrees in a variety of areas ranging from animal science to biology to biochemistry. Masters and Ph.D. degrees are generally required for research and teaching positions—especially those at the collegiate level.
  • Experience: Some corporate employers may require completion of intensive internships or apprenticeships for the potential employee to gain practical experience.
  • Certification through ACVN: Some veterinarians attain board certification in the specialty of nutrition through the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN). This intensive program requires a two-year residency after the completion of the basic veterinary degree and year of general residency. This residency is conducted under the supervision of a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.
  • Certification through AVNT: Some veterinary technicians attain certification in nutrition through the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians (AVNT). To be certified, a licensed tech must have three years or a minimum of 4,000 hours of work experience in the field, 40 hours of continuing education credits directly related to the study of nutrition, and detailed documentation showing advanced clinical or research experience.

Animal Nutritionist Skills & Competencies

The following skills will help animal nutritionists perform the job effectively:

  • Communication skills: Animal nutritionists must be able to explain why they're choosing certain nutrition ratios for animals to all stakeholders, such as veterinarians and veterinary technicians, zookeepers, wildlife rehabilitators, and others.
  • Critical-thinking skills: They must use their expertise to determine the best way to assess and meet animals' nutritional needs.
  • Math skills: Animal nutritionists must have a sound grasp of mathematical concepts to be able to calculate food ratios.

Job Outlook

Animal nutritionist and other food scientist careers are expected to grow about the same as the average for all professions according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: approximately 7 percent between 2016 and 2026. The BLS says this industry will likely see more growth as production methods and techniques continue to evolve.

While competition for college faculty positions will continue to be especially keen, there should be ample opportunities for animal nutritionist positions in research, manufacturing, and sales.

Work Environment

Animal nutritionists can work in a variety of environments such as farms, corporate research, development facilities, pharmaceutical companies, pet or livestock feed companies, federal government offices, laboratories, zoos, and wildlife rehabilitation facilities.

Work Schedule

While many animal nutritionists are traditionally employed, working regular business hours and work weeks, some choose to freelance and make up their own schedules.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People interested in becoming animal nutritionists may also consider the following jobs, listed here with median salary:

  • Agricultural and food science technician: $39,910
  • Veterinarian: $90,420
  • Zoologist or wildlife biologist: $62,290

Source: U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, 2017