First detailed nutritional survey in a referral companion animal population
The goal of every veterinary practice should be to supply the best wellness care and treatment of medical problems to companion animals. A huge compliance gap between what veterinarians believe is implemented and which recommendations owners actually execute has been demonstrated by a Pet Owner Survey conducted by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) in 2002. Information of over one thousand pet owners, that visited their veterinarians at least once a year, was published in 2003. The most striking results related to nutrition were the following: 59% of animals had a condition known to be improved with proper nutritional therapy but only 12% received a therapeutic diet. As a direct result of this survey's conclusions, the AAHA was incited to design nutritional assessment guidelines which were published in 2010 (Baldwin et al., 2010). These guidelines were further adapted and expanded by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), which resulted in the publication of new guidelines in 2011 (Freeman et al., 2011). The 5th Vital Assessment (VA) guidelines are designed to help veterinarians include a nutritional assessment into their clinical evaluation for every patient, every time it comes into their clinic. Therefore, a general nutritional screening must be performed through which nutritional risk factors can be diagnosed. Based on the amount and type of risk factors present and their severity, an individual nutritional recommendation can be made instantly or after a more thorough extended nutritional and clinical evaluation. Since the publication of the 5th VA guidelines, several courses and post‐graduate trainings have been organized in Belgium, as well as in several other countries, to help practicing first‐line veterinarians to use these guidelines. The National Veterinary Association (SAVAB) has also endorsed and shared the nutritional guidelines with the veterinary profession through newsletters and the yearly congress.
Although acquiring information about nutrition and management is encouraged through the guidelines, surveys in healthy companion animals that have been published since 2013 remain limited in nutritional information (Connolly et al., 2014; Diez et al., 2015). In surveys, published before the availability of the 5th VA guidelines, nutritional information is limited to data in relation to obesity (Russell et al., 2000; Cave et al., 2012) and often Body Condition Scores (BCS) are owner perceived (Donoghue and Scarlett, 1998; Robertson, 1999, 2003; Freeman et al., 2006; Sallander et al., 2010) or a 5‐point scale BCS system is used (Allan et al., 2000; McGreevy et al., 2005; Colliard et al., 2006, 2009; Lund et al., 2006; Courcier et al., 2012; Mao et al., 2013), which is not a validated scoring system. To our knowledge, surveys in referral patients contain very limited nutritional information at present. Therefore, the goal was set to design an electronic survey that could be used by one single person to interview participants. The interviewer had to be skilled in acquiring detailed nutritional information and evaluating nutritional status. Two aims were set as follows: first to acquire more insight into the nutrition and management of referred companion animal patients and second to determine whether a conclusion could be made about the awareness and use of the 5th VA guidelines by first‐line Belgian veterinarians by processing the information supplied by owners.