Extant research shows veterinarians face challenges in discussing nutrition with clients, also noting professional nutrition education as vital for effective communication with pet owners.  Objective: This study aimed to describe student veterinarians’ perceptions of nutrition, and identify attitudes that may influence their learning outcomes for nutrition education. 

A mixed-methods sequential design with convenience purposive sampling was used. Focus group discussions (n=19) informed the design of an online questionnaire tool that captured students’ perceptions of nutrition and confidence in nutrition knowledge and communication. Survey participants were newly enrolled veterinary students (n=120).

Developing a personalized relationship with clients was seen as an important aspect of increasing compliance to nutrition recommendations. Questionnaire respondents (n=84) who gave more thought to their pet’s diet considered themselves more knowledgeable about pet nutrition (p<0.001). Ninety-five percent of students considered “well-established communication with veterinarian” as the most important criteria of the veterinarian-client-patient relationship. However, students’ confidence in communicating nutrition to future clientele was correlated with their perceived emphasis on nutrition education in veterinary school (p=0.03). Students thought the curriculum would provide more training in medicine (97%) than nutrition (22%) (p= 0.0002). 

Students felt many veterinarians exercise caution when discussing pet nutrition with clients. While all students understood the value in effectively communicating nutrition recommendations to future clientele, their perceived confidence and level of knowledge varied. Understanding students’ perceptions is an important consideration in the design of nutrition curricula as it may impact the uptake of nutrition education, and ultimately help improve nutrition communication with owners. 

*KAMLEH A, May A1, KHOSA B, Deep B1, DEWEY C, Cate C1, VERBRUGGHE D, Adronie D2, STONE E, Elizabeth E2
1. Department of Population Medicine, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada; 
2. Department of Clinical Studies, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada