Animal Nutritionist Career Profile

Farm worker bottle feeding a newborn calf at a dia
Rich LaSalle/The Image Bank/Getty Images

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

Duties

An animal nutritionist must take into consideration the varied nutritional needs of different species as they formulate balanced rations. Nutritional and caloric requirements may vary greatly based on the animal’s condition and type of physical activity (such as performance, reproduction, lactation, or overcoming nutritional deficiencies in cases of prior neglect).

Animal nutritionists use an assessment of fatness or thinness, known as body condition scoring, to determine what adjustments should be made to an animal’s diet. The condition scores generally range from 1 (extremely thin with no fat reserves) to 9 (extremely obese) in cattle and horses; the ideal score for these species is a 5. Cattle, swine, sheep, dogs, and cats are evaluated on a scale from 1 (extremely thin) to 5 (extremely obese); the ideal score for these species is a 3. 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.

Nutritionists may also be involved in research or teaching activities. They often work in conjunction with veterinarians and veterinary technicians, zookeepers, wildlife rehabilitators, broodmare managers, and other animal professionals.

Career Options

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, working specifically with only one species such as horses, dairy cattle, dogs, or cats.

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

While many animal nutritionists are traditionally employed, some choose to determine their own schedule and seek freelance consulting work.

Education & Training

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 the course of 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.

A Bachelor of Science degree is usually required for entry-level positions in the field of animal nutrition. Many college programs offer undergraduate degrees in the field of 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.

Those working as college professors are usually required to conduct and publish research as they seek to obtain tenure in their department. Some corporate employers may require completion of intensive internships or apprenticeships in the field for the potential employee to gain practical experience.

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.

Some veterinary technicians attain certification in nutrition through the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians (AVNT). To be certified, a licensed tech must have 3 years 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.

Salary

Animal nutritionists generally earn a solid salary, though this can vary widely based on years of experience, the level of education, and the specific nature of their work.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics cited a mean annual salary of $60,690 for all food scientists in 2014. Pay ranged from as little as $35,670 for the bottom tenth of earners in this category to more than $106,080 for the top tenth of earners.

Job Outlook

Animal nutritionist careers are expected to grow about the same as the average for all professions according to the BLS, approximately 5 percent from 2014 to 2024.  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.