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How to become an animal nutritionist

dog lies by bowls of healthy food and licks muzzle

Animal nutritionist career overview

What you’ll do: You may specialize in certain types of animals and will create diets to support those animals’ health. You may also perform research or work for a feed company, helping to translate scientific concepts in messages that animal owners can understand.

Where you’ll work: Animal health clinics, zoos, feed manufacturing companies or independent practice

Degree you’ll need: At least a master’s degree in animal nutrition, but ideally a PhD in animal nutrition, equine nutrition, or a related nutrition degree

Median annual salary: $66,450

In This Article

The #1 ingredient in most animal food is corn, says TruthAboutPetFood.com. An animal nutritionist works to create a healthier animal diet.

What is an animal nutritionist?

An animal nutritionist helps to create food and diets to support animal health. “An animal nutritionist is someone who specializes in a certain species or group of species and their specific nutritional requirements,” explains Dr. Rachel Mottet, PhD, Equine Nutritionist and owner of Legacy Equine Nutrition.

Animal nutritionists may perform several different types of work. “A nutritionist might work with animal owners and make nutritional recommendations for their herd. They may also do research,” says Mottet. “Some nutritionists work with a company sales team, delivering a scientific message in an easy-to-understand format. Some people work as animal nutritionists in a zoo-type setting.”

Where does an animal nutritionist work? 

Animal nutritionists may work independently, creating their own businesses and working one-on-one with pet owners and in junction with animal physical therapists. They might travel, especially to barns where they can meet with animal owners and see their herds in person.

They may also make nutritional recommendations and help to prepare animal diets. Some may conduct research and give presentations on animal food recommendations in clinics, pet food stores and more.

The most common places you’ll find animal nutritionists are:

  • Animal hospitals or health clinics
  • Zoos
  • Pet food stores
  • Research labs
  • Private practices
  • Stables and farms
  • Animal food manufacturing companies

What does an animal nutritionist do?

Depending on their specialty and work location, animal nutritionists may perform a wide variety of tasks:

Interview animal owners to learn about current diets and challenges

Help feed manufacturers develop appropriate, easy-to-understand messaging

Review animal body condition and health

Perform laboratory research on nutrition

Research and provide nutrition recommendations for animal owners, farmers, and more

Perform public presentations to share information about nutrition and answer questions

Mottet explains that animal nutritionists can play a key role in transforming an animal and improving its health and appearance. “Often, people come to me because their horse doesn’t look, feel, or perform as well as it has in the past, and they’re looking for solutions that are nutritional in origin,” she says. “The best part of my job is seeing that transformation over time in the horse’s best interest.”

According to Mottet, anyone considering becoming an animal nutritionist should have passion for animal science, love animals and be very science-minded. She notes that to become an animal nutritionist, you should be prepared to earn a master’s degree at the very least, if not a PhD. “You need to really love this subject,” she says.

“…anyone considering becoming an animal nutritionist should have passion for animal science, love animals and be very science-minded.”

Animal nutritionists will also benefit from some key skills. Strong math skills are essential in evaluating and calculating diet and nutrition needs. Nutritionists need strong problem-solving skills and critical thinking capabilities to evaluate and find solutions for each animal or situation. Additionally, strong written and verbal communication skills are essential, too, since nutritionists need to communicate with animal owners and will gain key information from those conversations.

Animal nutritionists who hope to go independent and start their own business will benefit from business skills and an entrepreneurial spirit. The ability to market a business, keep appointments organized, follow up with clients and manage bookkeeping will all be important to independent business owners. 

What education is needed?

While human nutritionists and dietitians must meet strict requirements and often must be licensed, Mottet explains that regulations surrounding animal nutritionists are more relaxed. While there is no licensing requirement for animal nutritionists, education is used more to qualify individuals as professional animal nutritionists.

“The expectation is that you have your PhD in animal nutrition,” Mottet says. “There isn’t any type of licensure required to do this professionally. To be respected and taken seriously, amongst the scientific community in particular, you do need a PhD in animal science, equine nutrition or a highly related field.”

How to get experience as an animal nutritionist

Mottet recommends that individuals interested in becoming animal nutritionists start by contacting their local feed stores for internship opportunities. Local feed companies may also offer internships. She recommends talking with local feed representatives, too.

Talking with companies and feed representatives can help to establish valuable connections and build your network. “If you want to work in this field, it doesn’t hurt to get those connections with different companies that could hire [you] someday,” Mottet says.

Mottet started to gain experience by volunteering at a zoo and preparing diets for squirrels. “I was counting different types of nuts that went into the squirrel diets,” she says. “It wasn’t technical, but getting experience in the industry by working with animals and diets can be very helpful. As an undergraduate, think about if there are any animal science research opportunities that you can get involved in.”

Animal nutritionist salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics, dietitians and nutritionists earned a median annual wage of $66,450. The BLS does not provide data specific to animal nutritionists.

Dietitians and Nutritionists

National data

Median Salary: $66,450

Projected job growth: 6.6%

10th Percentile: $44,140

25th Percentile: $56,490

75th Percentile: $80,430

90th Percentile: $95,130

Projected job growth: 6.6%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alabama $60,320 $37,210 $80,500
Alaska $74,340 $49,530 $95,100
Arizona $65,440 $49,890 $87,860
Arkansas $53,990 $37,120 $75,730
California $80,270 $30,600 $111,460
Colorado $74,700 $49,620 $92,920
Connecticut $75,680 $51,010 $93,430
Delaware $63,420 $54,490 $101,290
District of Columbia $85,380 $63,980 $103,010
Florida $63,240 $46,240 $81,910
Georgia $61,660 $36,970 $83,290
Hawaii $77,490 $56,490 $94,690
Idaho $62,530 $38,200 $85,290
Illinois $63,970 $42,890 $88,340
Indiana $61,700 $48,070 $81,660
Iowa $61,360 $46,150 $76,430
Kansas $62,590 $49,600 $88,490
Kentucky $61,910 $42,500 $78,520
Louisiana $62,290 $46,070 $81,720
Maine $67,630 $52,000 $129,450
Maryland $71,770 $55,200 $102,480
Massachusetts $66,050 $36,530 $94,180
Michigan $63,680 $48,830 $79,810
Minnesota $66,530 $52,320 $85,910
Mississippi $52,000 $23,550 $77,500
Missouri $59,590 $35,860 $78,670
Montana $60,840 $33,510 $77,440
Nebraska $63,180 $45,610 $80,160
Nevada $64,300 $35,750 $96,710
New Hampshire $67,840 $53,260 $87,840
New Jersey $80,140 $52,440 $107,290
New Mexico $63,960 $46,940 $79,010
New York $76,640 $50,820 $102,540
North Carolina $60,110 $44,350 $83,030
North Dakota $64,820 $50,570 $86,070
Ohio $62,650 $48,000 $79,440
Oklahoma $61,850 $36,670 $81,250
Oregon $75,160 $59,470 $98,410
Pennsylvania $63,320 $45,680 $84,940
Rhode Island $67,590 $51,120 $99,470
South Carolina $61,610 $33,860 $81,620
South Dakota $60,030 $47,720 $86,070
Tennessee $61,490 $31,160 $76,130
Texas $63,690 $43,210 $86,940
Utah $59,170 $33,580 $87,290
Vermont $72,900 $54,980 $96,700
Virginia $68,940 $44,420 $90,110
Washington $75,570 $54,280 $96,250
West Virginia $68,310 $48,870 $88,940
Wisconsin $62,650 $46,570 $81,720
Wyoming $63,510 $38,500 $93,030

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

The job outlook for nutritionists is promising, with employment projected to increase by 6.6% through 2032. That growth is slightly faster than the average for all occupations.

Getting started

When it comes to getting started, education is the first step, followed by gaining experience. Mottet notes that animal nutritionist positions are often listed on job search websites.

“These positions are extremely competitive and it can be difficult to find them,” she cautions, which is why building up a professional network ahead of time can be so important. Taking the time to create a network of professors, feed companies and other nutritionists may help you to learn about new opportunities and get your first professional position as an animal nutritionist.

Published: June 20, 2023

paige cerulli

Written and reported by:
Paige Cerulli

Contributing Writer

rachel mottet

With professional insights from:
Rachel Mottet, MS, PhD

Equine Nutritionist and owner of Legacy Equine Nutrition