JAVMA News logo

September 01, 2021

New AAHA nutrition, weight management guidelines published

Published on

The American Animal Hospital Association released new guidelines on nutrition and weight management that discuss a systematic approach to nutritional management in dogs and cats.

The 2021 AAHA Nutrition and Weight Management Guidelines, which were prepared by a task force of experts, include information on body condition score, muscle condition score, and communicating nutritional recommendations to clients.

“Nutritional management is a central component of a complete health care plan for canine and feline patients and is integral to a pet’s longevity and quality of life,” according to the guidelines. “The positive impact of proper nutrition on health and morbidities such as chronic kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, and osteoarthritis is well accepted. Thus, a nutritional assessment of canine and feline patients should be performed on a regular basis throughout all pet life stages, ideally at each examination visit.”

Maltese dog and black and white cat eating natural, organic food from a bowl at home

The guidelines are not a standard of care but offer evidence-based recommendations.

The following are some of the topics discussed:

  • How to perform an individualized, breed-specific, and complete nutritional assessment.
  • Recommendations for the diagnosis and treatment of underweight or overweight pets.
  • A comprehensive list of nutrients of concern for specific health conditions.
  • Suggestions on how to communicate and educate owners about nutritional recommendations.
  • Strategies to increase adherence to nutritional recommendations.
  • Current information related to raw and home-prepared diets and breed-specific diets.

“Practitioners have minimal or no control over certain aspects of pet health such as the patient’s genetics and home environment,” the guidelines state. “Nutrition, on the other hand, can be substantially influenced by the veterinarian’s medical expertise and recommendations. Achieving this positive effect requires a partnership between the veterinarian, the practice team, and the pet-owner client. More so than many other pet healthcare topics, discussing nutrition with clients can include sensitive topics such as obesity, pet food choice, feeding habits, and food rewards. For that reason, these guidelines include a detailed discussion on communicating dietary recommendations to clients in a trust-based, non-defensive manner.”

The authors of the guidelines are Dr. Martha G. Cline, licensed veterinary technician Kara M. Burns, Dr. Jason B. Coe, Dr. Robin Downing, Dr. Tiffany Durzi, Dr. Maryanne Murphy, and Dr. Valerie Parker.

The 2021 guidelines build on the guidelines previously released by AAHA in 2010 and 2014.