This is going to be one of those controversial entries, but I’ve been asked three times this week to comment on the topic, so I felt a blog entry was necessary. I will state at the outset ; I won’t be listing names of other consultants, good bad or otherwise! To do so is unethical, although there are a couple I would always feel good about referring to, that’s not the point of the article. What I am doing here, is simply sharing with readers, the criteria I believe add up to a practitioner you can put your faith in. There are many opinions on this, ranging from “only a board-certified veterinary nutritionist should be formulating diets” to the opposite extreme – often as expressed as “feeding dogs should be easy, just use fresh foods and variety”. Yes, I have heard professionals say that, loudly and often (it is much more understandable from laypeople). Now, I am intractably moderate in most everything I do; my method, and hence opinion, lie smack in the middle, so to speak. Furthermore, I am only one practitioner, I can only take 2 or 3 of the complex cases I specialize in per week; there is need for more – many more! principled and knowledgeable professionals. It can be challenging for the average person to be able to sift the wheat from the chaff, in their quest for professional advice. “I am so confused” is something I hear every single day. As there is no certifying board, or any way for people to really tell who is who, in this field, I would like to offer some ideas, from one who has made this work the centre of her life. Without further adieu, let me share some of my most important criteria with you, what I would look for if I had need, say, of an avian nutritionist to help me with my birds . I wish you all the best in finding the right person to work with.
1) For me, a good practitioner is never limited to one method of feeding, promoting it above all others. The obvious implication here is the die-hard prey model raw feeder; there are others. I use cooked diets a great deal, primarily because so many of my clients have dogs that do best with cooked. Still, I remain completely open to feeding both raw diet and vegetarian, if the case suggests it. I see major problems with holding onto a cherished theory over and above the best interests of the dog and the wishes/comfort zone of the client. Make no mistake, dogs live long and healthy lives on well formulated cooked AND raw diets. If your consultant tries to insist only raw diet (or only cooked for that matter) is viable, I’d say – move along. It’s one thing to prefer a method of feeding; entirely another to be pushy about it, or ignorant of the pros and cons of all methods. This is number one to look for, in my books. A widely educated and experienced consultant will never claim there is only one good way to feed all dogs… and certainly not therapeutically!
2) A practitioner should have some form of education. It needn’t be a DVM/Phd. I took what was, at the time, a three year diploma course; I have taken (and still am taking) dozens of short courses on both nutrition and herbalism, throughout the years. My educational path is lifelong, there is always more to know, and nutritional science changes all the time. I do feel feel that *some* formal training is important – it doesn’t have to be a degree, but it should pertain to both dogs and to nutrition! Your consultant should demonstrate an eagerness to keep learning. This is probably as important as Number One, now I stop and consider it. “I’ve spent a lot of time on Internet groups” doesn’t cut it, for me – but I am also very confident one doesn’t need to be a vet to learn applied nutrition. Commitment to excellence will always entail the discipline to keep learning, but the forms it may take will vary.
3) A trustworthy person does not inflate their credentials. Their bio should be verifiable and accurate. A Phd is someone who attended a formal course of study in a recognized university; a vet has been, err, to vet school. There are many made-up degrees out there, and I for one do not trust any of them. This is hard to verify, sometimes, but worth the effort. Give me a person who says” I did an online course in nutrition, it wasn’t related to dogs, but I learned a lot” over someone inflating their credentials to suggest university graduation, any day. It speaks to character and honesty..both so important when you place your dog’s wellness in someone’s hands..
4) They should be willing to answer questions prior to booking, within reason. If your questions exceed a reasonable amount of time on the advisor’s end, he or she might suggest booking a paid phone consult. Be reasonable,too; I often have the entire case history sent to me to evaluate before booking – that is asking too much! But a consultant should be willing to converse 15 minutes or so on the phone, or reply to an email or two. I think that’s an obvious one!
5) They MUST employ a Questionnaire or Intake form, that covers veterinary history, diet, temperament, exercise level and more. Another obvious, but it is a hallmark of professionalism.
6) They should be willing to work with YOUR preferences and abilities – if you simply will not use raw diet, they should explain the advantages but still work up a cooked diet instead. If you cannot or don’t want to use a specific food for any reason, the consultant should work around that too…again within reason. In my practise, if a client really needs a vegetarian diet, let’s say, and they insist on raw prey model,I simply decline the case. I have to act in the dog’s best interest at all times..but most of the time, client preferneces can be worked with. Look for flexibility and respect from your advisor. (This is where Number one comes into play!)
7) Popularity does not equate to excellence... never doubt that. And I’ll leave it right there.
8) They should be enthusiastically willing to work with your vet.It takes some time and diplomacy to work with vets who might not be so sure about the non-DVM consultant, but your person should win them over with her skill and knowledge. Vets can range from deeply knowledgeable about diet and herbs, to completely uninterested and even suspicious, and a good advisor understands this and does not put YOU in the middle. A good question to ask, when considering hiring someone is “How do you feel about working with my vet”? The answer should be”I welcome it”.
9) Related scientific information should be available for you as well; in this confusing world, people often read all over the internet and find contradictory statements about optimal nutrition and herbs. The consultant should be able to clearly back up her choices! For example; I often hear from clients whose dogs have renal issues “don’t we need to lower protein?” and that’s a valid question, given that lowering protein was the primary dietary adjustment used for many years. However, the thinking has changed, so rather than ask an unsure client to simply accept my word on it, I will offer links from veterinary nephrologists and researchers to explain my choices. With seriously ill dogs, I feel this is the least we can do to offer assurance to the usually distraught owner, who is placing so much trust in our work..
10 ) Length of time in practise – no one will be practising after 8, 10, 12, 20 years if they are not reliable or trustworthy. This is not to say that experience is the only thing to look for, but it does count.
11) Specialization – does your practitioner work first and foremost as a trainer/groomer/dogsitter but they do a little nutrition on the side? They may or may not be knowledgeable about proactive nutrition for healthy dogs, but I can almost guarantee they’re not the person you want to consult for your unwell dog, who has need of great skill and knowledge. For the complex and/or serious cases, consult a specialist. ..someone who does this work,nothing but this, or at the least, as a focal point of their career.
This is a gratuitous cute Corgi puppy picture. It has nothing to do with the topic, it’s just because we all love to look at cute puppies.
12) Again, probably obvious, but a true professional knows the limits of what her job entails. My Client Agreement clearly states that I am in no way a substitute for veterinary care. I give my opinion on things like vaccines and flea prevention, if asked – and then say “Consult your vet”. Even when I have the strongest suspicion of an illness, I will refrain from lay-diagnosis, but might suggest something like “has your vet done a full-panel thyroid, at all?” and a link to a reliable article. No consultant should diagnose, or push you to comply with her own views about vaccinations of veterinary drugs. There is a very powerful line between informing the client, and frightening or pushing them. This is so, so important, it cannot be stressed too much.
There are, also, courtesies that you, the client need to observe; for example it can be very difficult to answer endless questions about nutrition in general; anything applicable to the case is one thing, but the consultant is not here to teach a fullblown course in canine nutrition. (If this is an area of interest, and you respect the consultant’s time, a nice idea is to book some paid phone time to ask unrelated questions. I always give people more than what they pay for on the phone! and it is appreciated). Neither are we really, always instantly available on social network places like ning or Facebook, where some of us just might go to unwind and talk about, you know, other things. 🙂 Unless there is an emergency, clients should limit communication to business hours(and the consultant should provide you with a back-up plan in the event your dog has some problem with the recipe, during the weekend, for example) I meet a thousand lovely people every year, but I can’t keep up social interaction with them all – no one can. The client needs to be respectful of the practitioner,too – although the onus for establishing boundaries is, in my opinion, clearly on the consultant.
I do hope this is helpful and clarifying; I’m sure I will think of more things once I post this entry. I personally strive to embody all of the above values, and the people I respect as colleagues all do as well. As the field of natural health for animals continues to grow, there will be more need for people who know their stuff! and more confusion amongst the general public as “who to trust”. Work with the above ideas, I encourage you; let that be a starting point.
And don’t hesitate to send feedback about this entry – things you might not agree with – things I’ve left out.